The wonderful reason this woman is selling bags made from retired theater backdrops.

Turns out plays can create more than one type of art.

What happens to those massive gorgeous painted theater backdrops when a show ends?

Jen Kahn who has been a stage manager on and off Broadway for years, never gave a second thought to what happened to the stage scenery when a show ended until a road trip in 2015. She and her friend wandered into a store selling bags made from old sails from sailboats when inspiration struck.

They could do the same thing with discarded theater backdrops.


Just like that Scenery Bags was born.

The gorgeous backdrop from this production is one of the backdrops Scenery Bags used. All photos via Jen Kahn unless otherwise noted.

Kahn collects discarded backdrops from theaters and set rental companies who would've thrown them away.

Jen Kahn in her car laden with backdrops.

The massive backdrops are then cut up and stitched into simple, super cute, rectangular clutches.

Bags are made at a factory in Florida.

Depending on which part of the backdrop they're cut from, the bags come in entirely unique patterns and colors.

"Desert Song" drop (left), "Desert Song" bags.

Each bag also comes with a label inside identifying which show it came from.

Scenery Bags!

There's a label inside each bag.

Kahn didn't just want to repurpose backdrops, though. She wanted to help make theater more accessible to everyone.

A portion of proceeds from the bags goes to the Theater Development Fund's Stage Door program, which takes middle school and high school kids to see Broadway shows.

Photo via TDF.

Scenery Bags went live on July 5, 2017, and sold out in just 48 hours, making enough money to send 10 kids through Stage Door to see shows.

Kahn credits much of the company's early success to the support she's received from the theater community.

“We have been given such an amazing opportunity to create less waste, keep a part of theatre history forever, and introduce a new generation of story tellers to theatre,” Kahn writes in an email.

They also had help from one particularly notable theater fan: "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's" Rachel Bloom.

These @scenerybags are made from retired theatre backdrops and a portion of the profits go to taking kids to see theatre!

A post shared by Rachel Bloom (@racheldoesstuff) on

Bloom found out about Scenery Bags through actress Krysta Rodriguez on Instagram. Rodriguez and Kahn became friends when they both worked on the Deaf West Revival of "Spring Awakening." Rodriguez was a supporter of Kahn's bags from the beginning and was one of the first people to get one.

When Bloom saw Rodriguez post about them, she immediately reached out to reserve her own, and when she received it, posted an unprompted photo on Instagram. Within 24 hours, Scenery Bags' followers jumped up by 1,400.

The next batch of bags are coming soon, from well-known musicals like "Hairspray," and "Oklahoma!" and from the looks of these backdrops, they'll be super cool.

"Hairspray" (top left and right), "Oklahoma!" (bottom left), and "Oz" (bottom right).

“We may be giving [kids] an introduction to theatre, but I strongly believe they will be giving us back so much more,” Kahn writes.

Arts programs in America are endangered. These bags aren't just cute; they're a reminder of theater's significance and will help ensure kids still have opportunities to see live shows.

If arts programs are cut from schools, a generation of kids won't be encouraged to express themselves creatively, and the art world will suffer as a result. Kahn's contribution is just one theater-lover's attempt to turn that around.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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