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US Community Theatre Lands ETC ION Control System

Wealthy Theatre is a community-owned not-for-profit venue located in Grand Rapids - a city in the southwest part of the northern US state of Michigan. With an ambition to be effectively 'off grid' for stage lighting, their efforts were recently recognised by one of the world's largest stage lighting companies.


At the beginning of December,  manufacturer Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) awarded Wealthy Theatre a grant for an ETC ION 2000 lighting console, valued at $10,000 (£6,100).


"This is a huge boost for our ultimate goal, to become the world's first historic venue to convert to LED stage lighting, which would change everything for Wealthy Theatre forever," says theatre director Erin Wilson (above, right, at ETC's HQ in Wisconsin). The ION console provides a significant upgrade in capacity, he says - even enabling Wealthy Theatre to control LED stage lighting instruments.


"If we had an LED stage lighting inventory, combined with our newly-installed solar array (right), we could actually power all stage lighting off the grid, with the energy of the sun," Wilson says. "A statement like that would get you laughed off the stage, if you were speaking to a group of theatre operators. But it's true. Wealthy Theatre, for several unique qualities, would be the perfect first-ever theatre to convert entirely to LED stage lighting - and in the perfect city for it."


Wilson recognizes the theatre's ability to contribute to greening the city in these efforts. Grand Rapids recently was named the "greenest mid-sized city in America." LED lights use 90-95 percent less power than incandescents. They're expensive to purchase, Wilson says, but explains that the added cost is partly because they last a lot longer than regular stage lights.


"We'll add a few LED instruments from recent fundraising," Wilson says. "For reference, we created an itemized list of an entirely LED inventory, position by position, but it's a prohibitive cost of $100,000 (£61,000) beyond our present budget."


Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC)


Wilson first met ETC's CEO Fred Foster in 2012, in Madison, Wisconsin, to discuss the theatre's need to reduce overhead costs by infusing greening technologies while preserving historic traditions - and its ultimate goal to power stage lighting through solar, which never has been attempted at any theatre.


"I knew I was about to meet one of the most brilliant inventors America ever has produced, and I expected a fast-paced, tech-heavy conversation about our hope to convert our stage lighting to LED," Wilson says.


But instead, he says Foster spent most of the three-hour meeting asking about Wealthy Theatre's role in the neighborhood.

"He was deeply interested in the social impact the theatre has along Wealthy Street," says Wilson. "He asked about demographics, gentrification, identity and many other dynamics that are part of the ongoing conversation in this neighborhood. He was very curious about all of these things."


Wilson says Grand Rapids business owner John Hyatt arranged the meeting with Foster. "John Hyatt has been working with us from the very start, in this effort to cut overhead costs through LED stage lighting," he says. "He's been a real friend to this theatre."


Shared values


Wilson says he discovered a positive overlap of values between the company and the theatre, including a focus on minimizing environmental impact. "Here's a company with a huge domestic workforce making hardware 24 hours a day, and the sum total of all liquid waste in a year can fit into a paint can," Wilson says.


Wealthy Theatre, with the help of local organizations like West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC) has already worked on greening their operations in a number of ways:


  • replaced plastic water bottles with carbon-filtered water in biodegradeable cups
  • added containment measures at every exit to preserve energy
  • converted all administrative areas to LED
  • added a solar array on the roof
  • added timers and motion sensors to lighting controls
  • eliminated nearly all paper in ticketing, programming and booking of events.


The Grand Rapids Planning Department's Historic Preservation Commission recently praised Wealthy Theatre as a "model for preserving historic tradition while implementing alternative energy solutions to challenges faced in all historic districts, nationwide."


Rockford Construction partnered with Wealthy Theatre to oversee and manage recent construction projects. Feyen-Zylstra installed the solar array on the newly repaired roof in August.


Wilson says Wealthy Theatre's sustainability efforts hope to continue "what Mr. (Peter) Wege set in motion here, by applying his principles and achieving some balance between the economical and ecological. "But we're well past the point where environmentalism is a burden," Wilson says. "It's smart financial strategy, because it saves you money, and that's good for business."


¦     www.grcmc.org/theatre

¦     www.etcconnect.com

If you are in the US, and want to stay in touch with sustainability-minded live entertainment professionals, do see/join our USA mini-group.


EDIT: This article was updated at 1924 GMT on 07.01.14 to locate the Grand Rapids of this piece to the correct state of Michigan, rather than Minnesota as originally published. Apologies for any confusion caused.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

This article first appeared in the Rapidian, and is reproduced with the permission of the author. Pictures: Main: ETC; Wealthy Theatre Solar Array: Rockford Construction

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Tags: buildings, economic, energy, environmental, social, usa

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