Neighboring Sustaining

The Next Act: Reusing Theater Sets, Reducing Waste

Many people enjoy live theater, but very few will have given thought to what happens to the resources used when a production closes. When you consider what’s involved in getting a show on the stage, it soon becomes apparent just how much is needed, including costumes, props, and sets.

While some theater companies may reuse costumes and props where possible, sets are a different proposition. The size of scenery and sets makes them harder to store, which leads to backdrops often being either taken to a landfill or incinerated after the final curtain call.

In a bid to reduce waste, Next Stage Rental and Market in Minneapolis, MN has come up with a nifty solution. Their mission is to rescue scenery and materials that would normally go to a landfill and rent them out, effectively creating a library of theatrical resources for theater, dance, or film. Anything that’s not fit for purpose is reclaimed and lumber and hardware is available for purchase by anyone who can use it – ideal material for an upcycling project.

As you would expect, Next Stage Rental’s inventory is continually growing. It includes backdrops, flats, luggage, scenery, and carpets and rugs – all bulky items that theater groups may previously have sent to a landfill because of the room they take to store. The well-stocked ‘Costume Collective’ – a linked costume exchange where companies can hire rather than buy clothes for the stage – was set up with stock that was bought or donated when two costumiers closed. As well as appealing to performing arts groups, the general public can hire costumes for events such as parades and Halloween and even borrow wigs and hairpieces for when a whole new look is required.

The market is open for browsing twice a week and for a charge of $25, groups can make a personal appointment at a time that suits them. The rental cost varies depending on the item.

As well as the eco-friendly element, this model appeals to theater groups because it takes the stress out of sourcing costumes, props, and flats, which can be a time-consuming process. It’s also a one-stop shop, rather than having to trawl vintage shops or yard sales to find what you’re looking for.

Although Next Stage Rental and Costume Collective is based in Minnesota, their model can be duplicated all over the world. If you are involved in local or national theater and feel this project could benefit you, why not reach out to other groups, schools, or production companies in your area? By pooling resources you will benefit both the environment and the theatergoers in your area and can use the time you save for rehearsing, meaning the quality of your productions will increase. Whether you’re an amateur or professional set-up, you can make a difference by choosing to reuse where possible. Plus, it’s fun; think of all the stories those props could tell if they could only talk!

-Katey Lovell

Photo by cottonbro studio (

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