The Trash Project

Location:  Austin, TX
United States
Project Description: 

The Trash Project is a dance that was created in collaboration with the City of Austin Sanitation Department Named the #1 Arts Event by The Austin American Statesman, the #1 Dance Event by The Austin Chronicle, and winner of Most Outstanding Dance Concert by The Austin Critics Table, The Trash Project celebrated Austin’s sanitation employees while drawing attention to the inherent artistry and skill in this work. The dance premiered in 2009 and was re-mounted in 2011 for an audience of 4,000+.

Directed by choreographer Allison Orr with an original score by Graham Reynolds, The Trash Project demonstrated a unique partnership between an Austin arts organization and a City of Austin department, featuring 24 employees and 16 large sanitation vehicles from Austin's Solid Waste Services Department (now called Austin Resource Recovery). Explains Director Bob Gedert, “The Trash Project showcased our employees in a way that had never been done before. “[It] helped boost employee pride and morale and garnered lots of positive media attention for the department.” Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison writes, "The Trash Project is one of the most unique and inspirational productions I have seen. Allison Orr, with Forklift Danceworks, produced a creative ballet on a grand scale that introduced the audience to the real beauty in the work of our Solid Waste Services employees.”

Not only did The Trash Project receive extensive critical acclaim, it brought positive attention to a job that is often looked down upon. Explains employee Jermain DeFreeze, “With a very talented group of producers, directors and performers Forklift Danceworks took the day-to-day work of an unappreciated and unrecognized city department and made it into an art form that won several awards. As the men and women in collections now pick up trash, recycling, brush and bulky items, and clean the streets we have a sense of pride. The public now comes up, saying they saw The Trash Project, and ask our employees for autographs! Sensational.”

Surveys conducted by Forklift after the event show a similar response. 100% of the performing employees surveyed reported that The Trash Project improved morale and pride in their job. As well, 94% reported that the performance improved the public’s understanding and awareness of what SWS does, and 97% agreed that it improved the image of SWS employees held by the general Austin public.

The Trash Project was created over a period of two years. In 2007, Forklift’s Artistic Director Allison Orr approached Solid Waste Services about the possibility of collaborating to make a dance based on the movement performed by trash collectors in their daily work. The intention was to create an opportunity for citizens to learn about a job that all of us depend upon but most of us know little about. Allison gained approval from the department, and Forklift Danceworks and SWS embarked upon a yearlong partnership in the fall of 2008. Solid Waste Services gave Forklift access to all aspects of the department, and Allison spent countless early mornings riding on route in trash trucks, interviewing employees, and acquiring a clear and deep understanding of the nature of this work. Key employees came forward with an interest in performing in the project, and rehearsals took place regularly for two months. The final 75-minute performance featured 18 sections which highlighted different aspects of the job—from a dance for three street sweepers to an automated truck quartet, a solo for a bucket truck operator and his truck to a grand finale for all 16 vehicles.