by Lou Mancinelli
After 22 years of working professionally as an actor and playwright, Roxborough resident Tony Lawton, who was 48 on New Year’s Day, is expanding into a new role. It involves a house built mostly of recycled material that regenerates its own electricity. Load-bearing walls are made of tires and plastic bottles, with earth filling the spaces between.
After finishing playing the role of Anthony in “Outside Mullingar” (Dec. 28) in this season’s production from Philadelphia Theater Company, Lawton will soon head to New Mexico for three weeks, where he will intern and learn how to build an Earthship.
Earthships Biotecture is a venture in sustainability. According to its website, one can be built in any part of the world in any climate and still provide electricity, potable water, contained sewage treatment and sustained food production. It runs off power harnessed from the sun and wind and suggests the ability to live off the grid while keeping you clean and fed, promising to be the most economically sustainable green design in the world.
“The idea just stuck with me,” Lawton said.
He first saw a blurb about it on Facebook. Over time, doing more research, he found it had two appeals. One that it could save him money, and two, with its sustainable mechanics, make less of a carbon footprint. His family thinks he’s crazy.
The internship is an exploratory gesture to find how viable an Earthship might be. This fall Lawton raised $2300 via IndieGogo in 23 days to pay for the internship. “This sounds crazy,” he said on his Indiegogo video, after talking about the inside of an Earthship home finished with plaster. “I know it does.” Crazy, but worth checking out.
Architect Michael Reynolds has been building, living, and developing his Earthship at his home in New Mexico for the past 40 years. It looks like a desert retreat house for a Star Wars captain. A front facade that looks like it’s all skylights. That’s where Lawton is going to learn skills he needs to build one or be able to apply techniques at his own home, like rainwater cisterns. Other Earthships look like clever parts of a landscape the architect has managed to blend effortlessly with the home.
Lawton plans to use what he learns there to help in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia, where a group called Love Loving Love is building an Earthship to serve as a homeless shelter. That group is in the midst of an IndieGogo campaign that concludes Jan. 5. Lawton’s eventual goal is also to build these futuristic sustainable homes here in Roxborough!
Earthships is not a step away from the stage for Lawton, who has carved his name working professionally in the Philadelphia theatre scene the past 20-plus years. He’s performed in dozens of productions, written his own adaptations and original pieces as well. In 1998 he formed the Mirror Theater Company, which performs solo and small-cast plays.
“The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis . . . seems an unlikely work for stage adaptation,” a City Paper review says of his adaptation, “but actor-writer Tony Lawton’s energetic version succeeds. . . . Go for the showy pyrotechnics like Perrier’s increasingly slinky outfits, the actors’ daring choreography, even the witty PowerPoint presentation that illustrates Screwtape’s letters . . . and stay for the fascinating rumination on contemporary morals through Lawton’s all-too-human devil.”
For 17 days in December of 2010 the Lantern Theater Company in center city presented “Between Heaven and Hell: The Anthony Lawton Festival,” which included works by C.S. Lewis, Shel Silverstein and “Heresy,” by Lawton himself, a probing, comic, autobiographical solo play in which Lawton wrestles with the value of religion.
Raised in California, Lawton went to Notre Dame University, then came east for his MFA in acting at Temple University, which he earned in 1992.
“It gives me a lot of control over the product which is not usually the case,” Lawton said, about writing and performing solo shows. “It’s in some ways simpler because I don’t have to reconcile the concept of the piece with anybody else.”
Lawton admits that Earthships, which cost about the amount of a conventional home, something he’d have to take a loan or another mortgage to buy, could end up being a failing investment. “I’m going to wanna ask a lot of questions of the designer and staff about the company,” he said. “I would like to be an advocate, but I would like be an entrepreneur also.”