- by Jacob Coakley
Tony Award-winning scenic designer Donyale Werle will speak at the upcoming USITT conference in Milwaukee on the subject of making Broadway more environmentally friendly. Werle, who is the pre-production co-chair of the Broadway Green Alliance, is committed to making theatre a “greener” practice, and uses salvaged materials in her sets and designs. Her set for Peter and the Starcatcher, for which she won a Tony, was made entirely of recycled materials. She will speak on Saturday, March 23.
“Green” Broadway Set Designer Donyale Werle to Speak at USITT Conference March 23
Donyale Werle, winner of the 2012 Tony Award for scenic design and a leader in the Broadway Green Alliance, has been added to the already-stellar lineup of participants at the 2013 USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo March 20-23 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Ms. Werle’s session will focus on producing greener theatre. She has gained much acclaim for her use of salvaged materials in her sets and for her creative designs; she won her recent Tony for Peter and the Starcatcher, whose set was made entirely of recycled materials.
Werle serves as pre-production co-chair for the Broadway Green Alliance, which works for sustainable practices in the theatre community and is sponsoring her appearance at the USITT Conference on Saturday, March 23. BGA is a supporting member of USITT, the national association for backstage professionals, whose annual conference draws 5,000 people from the world of theatrical design and technology.
USITT considers Werle’s appearance a major coup for the conference, which has devoted resources to promoting greener theatre and production for several years. Last year USITT awarded a grant to Technical Director Paul Brunner, assisted by Scene Designer Michael Mehler, co-chairs of BGA’s Education Committee, to support their efforts to bring sustainable practices to educational theatre. They will be holding a separate seminar on “Reimagining Theatre with Green Ideals” at the upcoming conference and helped bring Werle in as a speaker.
“Donyale Werle is at the forefront of sustainability in theatre, which is a movement we want to be part of,” said USITT Executive Director David Grindle. “From reusing materials to build sets, to planning tour routes to reduce the carbon footprint, there are all sorts of ways our industry can become more environmentally friendly.”
Werle encourages her colleagues to use sustainable materials, and she practices what she preaches. She used fabric left over from Disney Little Mermaid costumes to make the backdrop for Neverland in Peter and the Starcatcher, and created a seven-foot chandelier made of 500 cat food cans at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which received a Tony nomination for Best Scenic Design in 2011.
Werle, who started out as a painter, began to reexamine routine theatre practices after working for 13 months on the set for High Fidelity, a 2006 Broadway musical that closed after only 13 performances, she told American Theatre Magazine in Fall 2012. Seeing her work trashed seemed a waste in more ways than one.
Since then, her approach has been to always look for salvaged, used or recycled material to create her designs. “It’s easier and cheaper to work with found materials,” she told American Theatre. “You don’t have to buy new stuff and make it look old.”
For more information about the more than 200 sessions and an equal number of exhibitors who are already part of USITT’s 2013 Conference & Stage Expo, visit www.usitt.org/2013.