June 27th, 2012
This past weekend, Boston hosted the Theatre Communication Guild‘s annual conference, which is pretty much the biggest holiday of the year for people who get jazzed about discussing theatrical administration and practices. Which, I assume, is everyone. (Sorry, Christmas!) Due to an incredibly generous professional development grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Sideshow was able to send one of our staff members to soak up all the knowledge being bandied about the conference, and as the company’s resident Bostonite, I was selected as this year’s official Sideshow Learning Sponge. I’m still forming a lot of my thoughts into coherence, but in the meantime, a few musings:
Being at TCG was, in a lot of ways, like looking into Sideshow’s future. We’re not yet large enough to be an official TCG member, but our trajectory over the past few years certainly points to us being at that level some time in the future (possibly even sometime soon), and so getting to see the discussions being had by theatres at that size of operation was incredibly helpful. Most of those discussions are the same ones theatres are having at every level in the country: the best way to reach audiences, the best way to represent in a community, the best way to develop new works, etc. There were no secret blood rituals or shadowy cabal meetings that I could see (unless maybe they had one during the Mike Daisey performance?) and the only real, tangible difference from Sideshow’s conversations was that most of the budgets being thrown around in breakout sessions had an extra zero or three compared to what we’re used to. Getting to take part in these conversations, even as an “outsider” in some ways, was reassuring for two reasons:
The theme of this year’s conference was “Model the Movement,” which pretty much lays bare the idea that something needs changing, right at this moment, in American theatre. The way theatre relates to communities in this country is not as sustainable as it once was, and much of the discussions throughout the weekend revolved around potential new models for engagement, development and performance. Every company is handling this challenge differently: some are creating social network websites built around fictional characters, to let their audiences create their own narrative; some are partnering with researchers to find and communicate the exciting and relevant aspects of both theatre and science; and some are taking bold and confident steps to increase diversity, not just by hiring different types of people but by also adapting the way they approach their communities and the stories they tell.
It was all very exciting, and made me proud to be in an organization that’s already tackling many of these challenges head-on. I got to spend some time at parties bragging about Sideshow’s CLLAW matches and Family Reunion fundraisers, as well as all of the other methods we enact to find our own particular tribe. I also got to listen and learn from different voices from around the nation (and world!), and know that when I do finally get my thoughts fully formed and de-sponge in a presentation to the other Sideshow artists, we’ll be able not just to think about how nice it would be to take definite action, but to actually take up our theatrical arms and do something about it.
And when we do so, we’ll be surrounded by a city full of really thoughtful people. From beginning to end, Chicago organizations represented themselves winningly at the conference; it seems that every breakout and plenary session I attended had some form of Chicago shout-out, and reconnecting with artists from around the city at the parties was a particularly rewarding experience. Sideshow is a tight-knit and loving family, but Chicago is our extended family tree, and I guess maybe the overarching national theatre scene is, like, our great-great grandparents or something? Second cousins? I don’t know; this metaphor is breaking down. But TCG sure did feel like a family reunion, in many ways, and it was nice that it was the good kind of reunion, with just a little bit of fighting here and there, and not the kind that winds up with your lawn on fire and the police pulling up. Although that would make for a pretty good play…
Onward and Upward,