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Greening the Great White Way

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2009
Anne L. Fischer, Senior Editor, anne.fischer@laurin.com

Broadway, long known for its egregious use of lights, launched the “Broadway Goes Green” initiative in November. Significant progress has been made by its 39 theaters, all of which are doing their part to meet the city’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2030.

Part of the process involves changing marquee and lobby lights to low-energy lamps. There probably is no one who has changed more of those lights than Jennifer Hershey, director of operations for Jujamcyn Theaters LLC, a New York City-based company that owns five theaters and is deeply involved with greening the Great White Way.

Broadway theaters have a huge number of lights both inside and out, and, as Hershey noted, “It’s a tremendous step to change as many as we can.” To date, the company has changed 9000 lightbulbs in five theaters.

Meeting the challenge

The Walter Kerr Theatre is a “picture of exterior lighting,” but, Hershey recalled, it was a challenge to make its sign green. Jujamcyn used a combination of LEDs with cold-cathode lights. One problem was getting LED and cold-cathode bulbs in the specified colors. They can be custom-dipped, but special orders are time-consuming. She hopes that, with growing demand, LED manufacturers will broaden the color range.

GRbroadway1_WalterKerrTheatre.jpg
The marquee outside the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York City went green when its 2800 lights were switched to energy-saving LEDs, and to compact and cold-cathode fluorescents. Photo by Jennifer Hershey.

Another problem has been greening the interior lights. Everything inside has been switched to energy-efficient lamps (compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs; cold cathodes; LEDs; and standard fluorescent strips) except the old chandeliers. CFLs don’t fit in the old fixtures and don’t dim smoothly, Hershey explained, so the company is holding out for LED replacement bulbs at an affordable price.

When asked to quantify the energy savings, Hershey said that Jujamcyn is working on that. “Theaters use a lot of electricity, and each show has a different load, so it’s difficult to break out just the lighting.”

To date, 25 theaters have changed their exterior lighting. The goal is that, by November of this year, every exterior marquee from the three major theater chains will be changed. Other theaters also are getting onboard, Hershey said. “All of us are making tremendous progress in changing lightbulbs in dressing rooms, hallways – everyplace where it’s not a decorative fixture.”

Besides swapping out lightbulbs, Broadway is taking a holistic approach to going green. A recycling effort encourages reuse as much as possible, from sets and costumes to rechargeable batteries. Instead of applying chemical ice packs to sore muscles, actors are using bags of frozen peas. Green-friendly cleaning supplies are in use. Paper-based communication is replaced with e-mail. And so on.

The Great White Way is making a grand performance of going green – an example duplicated by theater groups worldwide.


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