Actor, and Tony Award nominee, Anika Larsen is very passionate about fighting climate change. So much so that her Instagram handle is GreenMomAF and when she's not onstage, she's advocating for a greener planet (along with the Broadway Green Alliance). In honor of Earth Day on April 22, and the accompanying Broadway Green Alliance Earth Day Concert in Times Square, Larsen has written this essay for Playbill about ways Broadway can help save the planet. Read it below and hopefully, these theatre-inspired steps will also help you make some change in your own carbon footprint.
I’m so into the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. So much so that I would cast them opposite me in my next show, if I thought I could come to terms with their agent.
I know, I know, “UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development” sounds so boring. I got bored just writing it. But I promise you, they’re beautiful! They’re what helped me go from feeling helpless and hopeless about the climate crisis to helpful and hopeful. They’re an elegant breakdown of all the world’s problems and what we need to do to solve them. It’s 17 Goals that range from Climate Action, to No Poverty, to Reduced Inequalities. Goals that acknowledge that we can’t have a greener world without a fairer world, and that all of our problems are interdependent and intersectional—when we are solving any of them, we’re solving many if not all of them.
But the real reason I love the Global Goals so much that I would invite them over to my house for pie if I thought they’d say yes, is that they finally led me to a definition for “sustainability” that I can feel passionate about. I like to think of it as Sustainability with a capital S: “shared prosperity on a healthy planet.”
No, it’s clearly not sustainable for the planet if we’re polluting and ravaging it. And it’s also not sustainable for the planet if all people don’t have access to food, clean water, decent work, education, healthcare, safety, and equality. It’s not sustainable if everyone everywhere doesn’t have a chance to prosper.
Now that’s a climate revolution I can get behind.
My friends, yes, the climate situation is dire. But no, we are not doomed. We can fix this. But we must start today.
You know why I’m optimistic? Because ever since I realized that Sustainability with a capital S is not someone else’s cause, I’ve learned about countless people out there who are problem-solving and inventing, countless examples of ingenuity and innovation, countless efforts at making good trouble for climate justice. The climate movement is an undeniable groundswell!
But a cardinal rule of storytelling in the theatre is “Show, don’t tell.” So I’m going to take a page from the Global Goals. They call themselves #TheWorldsToDoList. So I’m going to make a Sustainability to-do list for Broadway. #BroadwaysToDoList. To show you how much we’ve already done, and how much more we need to do.
Oh, hey—this version of #BroadwaysToDoList is by no means a final draft. You should chime in with your ideas. Let’s brainstorm it. Let’s fight about it. But let’s get on it.
Here we go: #BroadwaysToDoList for a Sustainable Industry
To-Do’s we are already nailing:
We’re using about 2/10ths of the power as before! (Thanks for that fun fact, house electrician at the Jacobs Theatre, aka “The Handsome Matt Maloney")
Thanks to the Broadway Green Alliance (BGA) textile drives, over 17,000 pounds of textiles have been responsibly recycled!
Dispose of electronic waste responsibly. Thanks, BGA, for our e-waste drives!
Put high-efficiency washing machines in every Broadway theatre. Thank you BGA and LG Electronics!
Get BGA Green Captains in every Broadway theatre to help us be as sustainable as possible.
Since the BGA was founded 15 years ago, there have been 800 Green Captains in NYC and across the country, in touring companies, community theatres, universities—ranging from a freshman costume design student to Audra McDonald!
Recycle our instrument strings and lighting gels.
Upcycle the vases from flowers people send us backstage.
Create a binder library to reuse all those binders we go through.
Refill our reusable water bottles backstage with delicious NYC water.
Take care of each other in times of crisis or need. Thank you, Entertainment Community Fund!
To-Dos we’re making strides in but need to keep working on:
Go paperless. Stage management is really starting to nail this backstage: laminated sign-in sheets, QR codes for physical therapy sign-up, tech run sheets on tablets, digital scripts.
Let’s consider paperless scripts and scores when it makes sense!
Turn off our dressing room lights and other lights when we’re not using them.
Use LED lights in stage lighting, dressing rooms, backstage, front of house, everywhere we can in our theatres.
Upgrade or retrofit our theaters to make them more energy-efficient, so they use the least amount of energy possible to heat, cool, and light our shows.
Make sure all New Yorkers and people of all abilities have affordable access to our shows. Thank you, TDF!
Have a reckoning about representation and equality in our industry, onstage, backstage and in our offices, and work to rectify it. We’ve made a start, much work to be done. Thank you to the many organizations doing this work, like Counting Together, Black Theatre United, Asian American Performers Action Coalition, Broadway Advocacy Coalition, Broadway and Beyond!
To-Do’s that are still to-do:
Figure out backstage composting. It’s tricky, but it’s important! It’s not just for hippies and farmers, like I used to think. There are SO many wins for people and planet (less food waste going to landfills and creating methane, big cost savings on shipping that waste out of NYC, nourishment for the soil in our parks), and the only losers are rats (sorry, Andrew Barth Feldman), who can’t get into our brown compost bins!
Put filters on our washing machines to stop synthetic microfibers that shed from our costumes from getting into oceans and waterways. This is low-hanging fruit! It’s pollution we can actually stop immediately!
Implement a system to clean souvenir cups left behind instead of throwing them away. There exist ways to do this that actually save merch money!
Make sustainability an important consideration in design. Factor in the impacts of material choices: where they’re sourced from, their ability to biodegrade or be recycled; be conscious of where our waste will end up; design with intention for reuse; compensate laborers fairly
Figure out gender categories and inclusion for all genders at theatre awards.
- Invest in carbon-fighting projects? It’s complicated, but eliminating carbon from our atmosphere is so urgent that we’ve gotta be talking about it.
Alrighty, that’s a start. Now you! What do you think we should be doing to help?
More and more people every day are joining the climate revolution, and are finding ways to work towards the Global Goals that make sense for them. What makes sense for the theatre community? We’re storytellers. Let’s tell the story, let’s shine a light, let’s sing about #TheWorldsToDoList at the top of our lungs. But also, let’s “Show, don’t tell.” Let’s show the world what Sustainability looks like by making our industry a model of Sustainability.
Artists are at the forefront of every movement. We have the skill and the privilege of giving voice to the voiceless. And if there’s one thing we theatre people know how to do, it’s each of us playing our critical part in working together towards an ambitious, visionary goal.
So let’s talk about our To-Do List every day. Let’s revise our To-Do List every day. And every single day, let’s work to check something off our To-Do List.
Let’s get #BroadwaysToDoList done.
I know we can. Because I believe in both the theatre community and the Global Goals so much that I’m gonna write them a buddy cop movie to star in together. And in the end, they’ll solve the case and save the planet.
Anika Larsen has performed on Broadway in Beautiful, Avenue Q, Xanadu, All Shook Up, Rent, and most recently as the mom in Almost Famous, hence her Instagram handle, @GreenMomAF. She is taking advantage of her current unemployment to help organize the Broadway Green Alliance Earth Day Concert in Times Square on Saturday, April 22nd, and to create “The Broadway Vlog to Save the Planet” currently dropping episodes on the Broadway Podcast Network at BPN.fm/SaveThePlanet.
View one of the episodes of the Vlog below, which features Sierra Boggess (a former Ariel in The Little Mermaid on Broadway) talking about how your laundry has a huge impact on the ocean.