In fall 2019, Parker Hickey, senior acting major, was approached by Jacki Walburn, a senior at the time, who was looking for any opportunity to be an activist and to be more sustainable, whether it be through organizing climate strikes or painting theater sets.
“She was very involved in political things and was knocking on doors for local candidates and on the debate team, so she was very passionate,” Hickey said.
Hickey and Walburn shared a common interest in theater, and they both wanted to do whatever they could to make a difference and show people it could be more environmentally friendly.
“[Walburn’s] very passionate about theater, and it can be such a wasteful thing, but the arts and theater are extremely important in society,” Hickey said. “She was really fascinated by the Broadway Green Alliance, which is a program with Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theaters and college programs that use that information to help create more sustainable practices within theaters across the country.”
According to its website, the Broadway Green Alliance connects members of the theater industry with environmental professionals to normalize green practices in the community and has implemented sustainability reform on Broadway since 2008. These practices include making all the lights energy-efficient, keeping old costumes out of landfills and providing educational programs at various universities.
From Walburn’s fascination with this group, the Ball State Green Theatre Society was born — a club that Hickey said encourages environmental stewardship and creates awareness about practices in the theater industry that may not be the most environmentally friendly. Walburn and Hickey both started the group in 2019, and now, Hickey is its president.
“We want to make sure people are always thinking, ‘Do I really need to print this script? Can we be more frugal and save some trees and just reuse this old wood for this set? Can we bring reusable water bottles to rehearsals?’ Just thinking about every little possible thing to create more awareness,” Hickey said.
They said the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on the organization because a lot of the group’s activities in the first year required face-to-face contact and group activities, but now that the pandemic’s effects are improving, the Green Theatre Society can plan more events.
“Some of our meetings have been informational,” Hickey said. “We talked about current events happening in the world, but then, usually, we’ll do some group activities and sometimes creative things like making [climate] strike signs.”
The Green Theatre Society has consistently had between 15-20 people involved each year, but Hickey said the attendance is fluctuating. They have also spoken at freshman theater classes to recruit new members for the club.
“We need people to keep it going and carry it on,” Hickey said. “We need to get more underclassmen passionate about it and more opinion and more diversity and more people onstage and backstage, just to get multiple perspectives and even connections with professors. I think it’s really important to get them on board so that we can do more within the productions.”
Graeme Mahon, senior acting major, is also a member of the Green Theatre Society board and agreed it’s been difficult to recruit new members during the pandemic. He also said it’s been difficult to get male members because he believes there is a stigma around the group being “a feminine thing.”
“A big focus, specifically this semester, is just getting more people involved and really branching out and trying to get in as many new members as we can,” Mahon said. “I think we all have a responsibility toward taking care of the planet, so it’s one of my hopes that we get more members and, specifically, more male representation.”
The Green Theatre Society hosts multiple events throughout the school year to get students involved, with its most popular one being the clothing swap on University Green, where people can get new clothes while also donating their old ones. This year’s event was hosted Oct. 23, where the group also gave away some of its shirts to advertise the club and get more of a following.
“We usually wait to do it before Halloween so that people can get pieces for their costumes,” Hickey said. “It’s super cheap, and college students love that.”
Mahon and Hickey said the group is trying to host more events in addition to the clothing swap, which it was able to do more in 2019 without COVID-19 concerns. Hickey said one of their favorites was a vegan potluck and another event where everyone brought materials to make their own zero-waste toothpaste.
“We’ve also done informational stuff on the zero-waste movement, environmental racism and sort of the hot button topics like that,” Mahon said.
This year, Mahon also said the board plans on adding other events like a succulent drive or a climate strike at the Scramble Light.
As Hickey and Mahon are both preparing to graduate, they both want to make sure the Green Theatre Society is in “good hands” and ready to outlive both of them once they leave Ball State.
“I feel like the beginning of the club came out of a lot of passion, but it was very chaotic and there wasn’t a focused mission,” Hickey said, “so my goal before I hand it off to the leaders next year is to make the mission super clear and that people know exactly what the club is about and exactly what we’re setting out to do.”