For stage manager Jennifer Kahn, the end of a show’s run was always a sad moment. Not just because it meant saying goodbye to the cast and the production, but because oftentimes all of that scenery was thrown in the trash. “I hated watching them throw our shows away, and that was always something that was laying on the back of my heart,” says Kahn.
After 17 years of stage-managing full time, and writing her DIY blog Linen Lace and Love on the side, Kahn combined her passions and founded SCENERY, a company that upcycles theatre masking and show drops into clutches and bags. What’s more, a percentage of the proceeds benefits TDF. “It marries everything I care about with theatre and upcycling and ethical fashion and giving back and accessibility for the arts,” she says.
SCENERY has recycled drops from Broadway’s Mamma Mia!, Rocky, Prince of Broadway, and Lobby Hero, as well as national touring productions of The Lion King, and Off-Broadway and regional productions of The Last Match, Benny & Joon, and more.
Kahn and company are currently working on a line of bags from Ain’t Too Proud, which just opened at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre. “It was an older drop that [the scenic designer] ended up repurposing for Ain’t Too Proud,” so the “off-cuts” and remnants of re-sizing that drop went to Kahn. “We make a lot of stuff out of the scraps of Broadway.”
Fabric from each production is finite, so every single line produced by SCENERY is automatically a limited edition—and every bag has its number and origin stitched into the lining.
But SCENERY is expanding. As of March 27, the company launched an accessories division, starting with bangles made of show deck—the flooring used in Broadway and touring productions.
“The first round came to us from a show where we were asked not to say the title,” says Kahn. So the inaugural line of Show Deck Bangles will come in either plain black or black dipped in gold paint. Future bracelets will retain the design of their origin shows. Kahn has plans to expand to earrings, box clutches, and more accessories, always looking to “save more art from the trashcan,” as Kahn puts it. “We will just be the Pottery Barn of repurposed theatrical material.”
In just two years, the former stage manager has become a full-fledged designer and the theatre community has flocked to Kahn’s product and mission. To date, SCENERY has collected 15,544 pounds of theatrical waste, sponsored 490 students to see Broadway shows, and helped 26 shows find new life. In doing so, Kahn also discovered an unexpected new layer of theatre stories.
Kahn regularly receives letters about the emotional significance of the bags: “‘I own a piece of the first show I ever saw with my mom—or the last show I ever saw with my mom,’” Kahn recalls reading. “Or ‘I own a piece of my Broadway debut’ or ‘I own a piece of the show where I proposed to my wife’ and then gave her the bag for their anniversary. I read and I cry,” she confesses. “I knew in starting this company that we were going to be decreasing waste. I knew that we were going to be helping a new generation be introduced to theatre. I didn’t stop to think about these beautiful stories people send me.
“We all work in this very finite industry and having something that lasts long enough to hold onto tangibly as a reminder and keepsake is, I think, so important and something we don’t often get,” she says. “I’m excited to be able to give that to people.”