IU student works on making theaters more sustainable


IU Sophomore Olivia Ranseen has been working on making IU's theaters more sustainable by combining a sense of environmental awareness with a love of stage. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Olivia Ranseen, a sophomore environmental management major, found a way to combine her passion for environmental sustainability and her love for 

In high school, Ranseen said, she considered theater to be a hobby.

It was something she loved but didn’t see herself pursuing in college. However, Ranseen said once she arrived at IU she became involved with the 2020 Sustainability Scholars 

“Theater is a change agent, right?” Ranseen said. “It brings a lot of reflection on social issues and ethical issues. That is what theater is supposed to do, rather than be there for just entertainment, and I think (environmental sustainability) is a major issue of our time.”

During Ranseen’s freshman year she worked on replacing batteries in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. Ranseen said they cut down from using more than 600 alkaline batteries a year in to now just using about 20 rechargeable batteries for the microphones.

Along with batteries Ranseen discussed how she worked with IU facility operations to regulate temperatures in Ruth N. Halls theater and Wells-Metz theater to save energy.

“Theater is kind of sustainable within itself, it’s just that there are certain parts that need to be improved,” Ranseen said. “It’s really important to be positive about that, I’ve 

Ranseen said she has received an additional $3,000 grant to continue her work through her sophomore year.

She works closely with her mentor Paul Brunner, technical director and head of the theatre technology program. The two are currently working on an article about sustainable theater for the theatre trade journal “Theatre Design & Technology.”

“I kind of act as a liaison, or an environmental advocate,” Ranseen said. “I kind of worry that once my project is over that it won’t be maintained.”

Katie Horwitz, director of “The Duchess of Malfi” at IU, has been very welcoming toward Ranseen and others to improve sustainability in her production. Ranseen said she is focusing on incorporating ECOR, a wood alternative, into the set design.

“We have been looking into waste diversion programs but also ways to limit the amount of wood that we use,” Ranseen said.

To help bring more people into Ranseen’s focus, she said the production has elected Caroline Lee as the so-called ”green captain” for the team to make sure that rehearsals take sustainability into account.

Ranseen often said sustainability is a small niche that many are not aware of. She is currently working to figure out how to continue the combination of sustainability with IU theater for the future.

Even though Ranseen is going to study abroad next semester and cannot commit to another research project, she said she plans on continuing to help with sustainability through theater. She is passionate and believes there is still work that she can assist with.

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