To round out my community-centric Earth Day coverage, I’m pleased to give big green props to Big Green Theater (BGT), a neighborhood-based environmental education program that put on a hell of a show this past weekend in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.
Developed by eco-minded nonprofit performance venue The Bushwick Starr (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Starr is the only neighborhood performing arts venue in all of NYC boasting a rooftop hydroponic garden), BGT invites neighborhood kids involved with the Still Waters in a Storm learning group to write and create short eco-themed plays. Working with Bushwick Starr Education Director Joy Jones, the works developed by this select group of pint-sized playwrights deal with kid-friendly environmental issues — no “Fracking: The Musical” to be found here, folks — like composting/waste, wildlife, natural disasters, water scarcity, and pollution in the East River.
After six months of development and input from local eco-educators and activists, the kid-created plays are brought to life by professional (adult) actors from the Superhero Clubhouse during a two-day performance festival that, naturally, kicked off on Earth Day.
The Bushwick Starr explains the basic mission of BGT:
We believe that the neighborhood of Bushwick needs to improve environmental awareness, and we would like to play a part in motivating our community to be active in a global cause that we feel very strongly about. By making BGT an interactive process, we know that it will have an effect on the artists involved as well as the student playwrights, their families, and those who see the performance. Part of The Bushwick Starr’s mission is to help create and foster a bond between community groups and arts centers, and to encourage neighborhood interaction in order to preserve the culture and history of the current Bushwick community. We have developed Big Green Theater as a project that will meet these objectives.
I had the pleasure of attending a BGT performance and benefit on Saturday night and needless to say it was a blast. Despite sometimes serious undertones, the seven short plays were filled with things that only imaginations belonging to a group of playwrights aged 7 to 13 could conjure: tap-dancing tornados, "Ghetto Superstar"-singing oysters, kid scientists-turned-cormorants, and a compost bed inhabited by sassy earthworms.
The Superhero Clubhouse actors appeared to have a ton of fun hamming it up — without getting too silly — with the material. And because the plays were written by kids, the dialogue in each skit was refreshingly blunt and no-nonsense (“Wait! I need to tell you something! That's the biggest fire I've ever seen! And also: that's the only fire I've ever seen!"). There was also plenty of pop-culture references, musical interludes, characters with whacky super powers, and a somewhat high body count (a heroic scientist who de-pollutes the East River and a fellow who starts an Australian brushfire with a discarded cigarette both perish in separate plays).
Although the kid-written plays and community-involvement aspect are the centerpieces of BGT, the Bushwick Starr also incorporated numerous eco-friendly theater production practices into the festival including paperless programming, the use of LED lights, recycled materials for props, costumes, etc., the use of nontoxic paints, cleaning products, etc., and more. Plastered around the venue itself were various green tips and tidbits to help drive the point home. And true to the community-centric aspect of BGT, entrance to the festival was free to Bushwick residents. Additionally, a portion of the proceeds from the festival were donated to neighborhood environmental organizations.
Click here to find out more about The Bushwick Starr's Big Green Theater program. And if you just happen to live in Bushwick, click here to find out how to get involved. Does your neighborhood or greater community have any eco-initiatives like Big Green Theater that provide “environmental education through art and open space?”
Since I’m no theatre critic, I think it would be suffice to conclude this post with a giant “bravo!” directed towards The Bushwick Starr, the student playwrights, and the talented team from Superhero Clubhouse. Hope to see you next Earth Day, BGT!