Turning Theatres Green

Two actors, passionate about the environment, are doing something about it. Tess Benger and Julia McLellan have established a national not-for-profit organization, Canadian Green Alliance (CGA), devoted to bridging the gap between sustainability and theatre

The CGA has been established for over two years, but on Friday, April 1, its resources will now be available to the public. The organization offers ideas for ecological responsibility and earth-friendly green choices, while ensuring those plans are economically sound and good for the individuals working in the theatre industry. “We want theatres to be good for the planet, people and profit,” says McLellan.

Julia McLellan and Tess Benger. Photo by Wade Muir.

On April 1, the CGA will launch their website at www.canadiangreenalliance.com where the public is invited to register for a free membership. They will also be presenting their Sustainable Theatre Guidebook for the first time. The Guidebook will be available in e-book format and will be emailed to members, also at no charge. With this resource, arts workers and organizations will have a unified guide of best practices, to aid them in the creation of climate-crisis-conscious theatre. “For example, there are ideas to make the green room more green,” Benger explains with a laugh, adding that there are solutions to be used in all parts of the theatre, including lighting, heating and cooling to make large theatre buildings operate more efficiently.

The two women are no strangers to theatres across Canada – both have impressive resumés. Benger has had leading roles in shows such as Anne in Anne of Green Gables at the Charlottetown Festival, Dinah in The Philadelphia Story at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Sophie in Mamma Mia at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, Sally Bowles in Cabaret at London’s Grand Theatre, and her Dora-Award nominated role as Dot in Sunday in the Park with George at Eclipse Theatre, Toronto.  

McLellan is best known for her time in Kinky Boots, first on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, then in the National Tour around North American, followed by a turn on Broadway in the popular musical. She also performed in Mirvish’s production of The Wizard of Oz in Toronto and on the National Tour. She had the role of Val in A Chorus Line at the Stratford Festival.

The two share a passion for the environment and felt, as arts workers, they had to leave their values at the door when entering theatrical workplaces. “The Guidebook is a way to support the theatre community and give them the tools and resources to enter the climate conservation in a productive and positive way,” Benger explains. So with a grant from the Toronto Arts Council, they began writing and tracking down contributors. “We are so excited to be finally launching this Guidebook and expanding the membership of the CGA,” Benger says. While they stress that everything is free, they also wanted to point out that the website has a donation button. “We certainly welcome any donations which will help us keep this project moving forward,” McLellan adds.

The information is not only useful to theatre makers, it is important for all arts workers, they stress. Film makers, dance or opera companies, multi-media groups and others can also find useful information through the CGA. “It’s an asset to the planet,” Benger points out. Among her favourite examples is Soulpepper Theatre’s garden on their rooftop, where they also keep bees and provide honey to their staff. McLellan adds that the solutions can also be pragmatic: “There are subsidies and resources available to take advantage of green retrofits for our theatres.”

While Benger and McLellan are the founders of the CGA, and while it’s primarily been their labour of love, they have since added a board of directors to oversee the operation of the organization. With the April 1st launch, they are confident the CGA will continue to grow.

For more information, visit the CGA’s website at www.canadiangreenalliance.com or contact them at hello@canadiangreenalliance.com


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