Wolf Trap Foundation Inspires Green Living through Theatre

In Wolf Trap Foundation's musical theatre production, Junkyard Pirates, Captain Spare Tire teaches children about the 4 Rs. Photo: Courtesy Wolf Trap Foundation

The 3 Rs of Readin’, ’Ritin’, and ’Rithmetic have been replaced by the 4 R’s: Reuse, Repair, Recycle, and Reduce.

This life-size puppet from Junkyard Pirates helps children understand the importance of avoiding landfill waste. Photo: Courtesy Wolf Trap Foundation

Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, based out of Washington, D.C., teaches these lessons to preschool and kindergarten children through its musical puppet show,  Junkyard Pirates.

“We thought, what can 3, 4, 5 year olds understand?” says Mimi Flaherty Willis, Senior Director of Education. The organization commissioned some of their artists to create a show for children to teach them the importance of recycling.

All puppets are made out of recycled materials, and pirates are the “good guys.” Their leader, Captain Spare Tire, is up against his nemesis, Land Fill.

The show premiered two years ago at the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods. Performances of Junkyard Pirates for school children take place at the Center for Education at Wolf Trap. To date, more than 7,000 students and adults have attended the show. For the upcoming school year, 22 performances have already been scheduled.

“The arts are very powerful for children and adults,” says Flaherty Willis about the benefits of teaching through musical performances. “As children, important messages are taught through games and songs — like the alphabet. We did the same thing to teach recycling.”

Using Multimedia

Dancers enact a scene from the multimedia production of The Sun Road in Glacier Park. Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

A more recent addition to the company’s repertoire includes The Sun Road, which incorporates multimedia to illustrate the progress of global warming.

Glacier Park serves as the setting for this “dance reflection on the melting of the glaciers.”

The Sun Road is part of Wolf Trap Foundation’s Face of America series.

The production is currently on tour with a 20-city schedule planned.

Living Their Ideals

Wolf Trap goes beyond teaching others to be green and strives to reduce their own carbon footprint. They were one of the first arts organizations to launch a Go Green program. In the past two years, they’ve reduced their carbon footprint by 20 percent, decreased landfill waste by 50 percent, and cut energy use by 23 percent.

Dancers make use of the dramatic background of Glacier Park in the multimedia production, The Sun Road. Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

Flaherty Willis explains that the organization has regulated its thermostats for energy efficiency, uses more energy-efficient light bulbs throughout their space, and has installed motion-sensor lights in some conference rooms. In addition, the staff use electronic communication for most correspondence, rather printing and sending materials by U.S. Mail. They’ve eliminated disposable plastic cutlery and are examining other steps they can take to be more eco-friendly.

Wolf Trap also began a carpool incentive program, and General Motors supplied hybrid vehicles to transport artists to and from the amphitheater for the summer season.

“[The 4 Rs] really just becomes a way of doing business,” Flaherty Willis says.

Wolf Trap’s efforts are being recognized by other eco-conscious groups. Reverb invited Wolf Trap to be a founding member of its Green Music Group — an international coalition of artists that includes Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, and the Dave Matthews Band. Flaherty Willis says each of these artists have committed to using green practices while touring.

Focusing on What’s Important

But Flaherty Willis says that just one thing is most important when it comes to teaching children about the environment: They simply need access to the outdoors.

“Even if you just take children outside to read to them, it makes a difference,” she says.

Brigette Fanning

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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