Woman with face mask holding plastic butterflies in front of light
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This play about climate collapse and butterflies was sustainably produced

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Students
  • Department of Theatre Arts

The key to using recycled materials in theater is to “take what you’ve got, make it work and make it pretty,” Ricky Lyle Campbell said.

Campbell, the Department of Theatre Arts costume manager, and his students constructed almost 200 butterflies out of discarded plastic cups and bottles. He affectionately refers to his classroom as the “butterfly factory.”

Those butterflies are just one example of sustainable practices used in the production of “Somewhere,” debuting Saturday at Pitt’s Charity Randall Theatre. Set in the not-too-distant future during an era of climate collapse, the play chronicles two protagonists’ journeys to track the world’s last monarch butterflies as they migrate to the west coast.

For director Ricardo Vila-Roger, staging a play about environmental collapse while eschewing eco-friendly practices would be hypocritical. Vila-Roger posed the question to his team, “What happens if we try to purchase as few things as possible?”

Though past Theatre Arts productions have used some elements of recycling or repurposing materials, “Somewhere” is the first play in Vila-Roger’s memory to integrate sustainable practices in every aspect of the production — from altering old costumes and repurposing stage platforms to creating props from discarded materials. Vila-Roger even sourced dead branches from Pitt’s grounds crew to use on stage.

“You have to step outside of your comfort zone,” costume manager Campbell said. “We’re used to working with new materials that are primed and perfect and ready to go. I could have gone out and bought a big sheet of clear plastic and cut out all the butterflies and very easily could be done with it.”

Campbell’s time in the butterfly factory has left him with new opinions about plastic bottles: smooth bottles, which are easy to flatten, make the best butterflies, and bottles with ridges became the play’s crumpled dead butterflies.

Sustainability Projects Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, Sam Ford, praised the Department of Theatre’s efforts: “‘Somewhere’ has a message that addresses the Pitt Sustainability Plan’s impact areas of landscape and ecology and food systems by vividly portraying what a world without pollinators would look like — challenging audience members to examine how mass extinction events have on us all.”

“Once ‘Somewhere’ has had its successful season, we look forward to welcoming the Theatre Department as one of our newest Green Labs,” said Ford, referring to her office’s initiative to help workplaces become more sustainable.

The shift to using sustainable practices has been a long time coming for the theater world.  Because theaters often lack storage space, they sometimes dispose of entire sets and costumes at a show’s conclusion.

To help his production team shift to a sustainable model, Vila-Roger consulted Green New Theatre, a document inspired by the Green New Deal that helps theater-makers in the age of climate crisis enact sound eco-practices.

Released in 2020 by artist collaborative Groundwater Arts, Green New Theatre is a call to arms. The authors wrote in the introduction, “The arts sector also has an important role to play in shifting the narratives about the climate crisis. While this is important, it is not enough for our industry to tell the stories of change. We must change ourselves and our ways of working.”


— Nichole Faina

If you go:

  • Get tickets to see “Somewhere” from Saturday, Oct. 16 to Friday, Oct. 22 in the Charity Randall Theatre.
  • The show begins at 8 p.m. Tuesday thru Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
  • In accordance with University of Pittsburgh guidelines, a mask and a current Panther Card (Pitt ID) will be required to see this production.