In addition to your duties as chair of the department of Theatre and Cinema at Radford University in Radford, VA, you are also at the halfway mark in your two-year term as president of USITT. What are your major accomplishments with the organization?
My first year has been spent building bridges among communities within and outside USITT. Based on recommendations resulting from USITT's recent organizational assessment conducted by McCarthy Arts Consulting, we are examining strategies to reorganize USITT's organizational structure and add an executive director. A transition advisory team, consisting of USITT members, has been established to review our recent external review and make recommendations for a thoughtful transition that positions the Institute for another 50 years as a major force in the performing arts and entertainment community.
While developing a new organizational model, we are simultaneously exploring new bridges with peer organizations. New ESTA/USITT joint training sessions offer a variety of workshops with intense training in targeted skill areas such as rigging, electrical engineering, and lighting console programming. A second joint venture with the Educational Theatre Association will feature sessions in Cincinnati for high school teachers who require specialized training in technical theatre and design.
Probably the biggest shift has been in the creation of the USITT-USA Design Exhibit, formally known as the PQ Exhibit. The exhibit has been tweaked a bit in response to a charge from the board of directors for the exhibit to travel to art galleries and museums as well as to become our entry for the 2011 Prague Quadrennial. Exhibits will be designed to tour and represent the best of theatrical design found in the US. The ultimate goal is to bring a broader awareness of theatrical design to audiences throughout the US.
What are USITT's goals as it heads toward its 50th anniversary next year?
I think our theme, “Honoring our Past While Securing our Future,” succinctly places this question in perspective. The 2010 Kansas City conference will be a time for reflection and honoring the tremendous accomplishments that have occurred over the past 50 years, while at the same time exploring the tremendous opportunities the future holds. Each day of the conference will have a specific theme and feature a blockbuster speaker. Themes will include dance, theatre, and movies, and we will end on Saturday by taking a look toward the future.
What is the current state of academic theatre, especially in design training?
Academic theatre, and especially those who are engaged in training designers, must recognize that the entertainment world is rapidly changing. Young audiences are expecting to tune in to the entertainment they choose on their own time and with their preferred delivery devices and styles. While I am strongly committed to teaching the fundamentals of design first, I recognize that we must be cognizant of our audiences and their demands for new forms of delivery. The challenge then becomes meeting the needs of a new generation of students who come to the table with a different set of expectations.
This is not a new phenomenon. Robert Edmond Jones, in his book Dramatic Imagination, talks about the challenges facing traditional theatre during the middle of the 20th century with film and television. Today's delivery systems include Blackberries, iPods, and, of course, YouTube. While change is always in the air, one thing is constant: good design. And, as Jones so aptly states, that will always be “evocative.”
What is the best piece of professional advice you have ever received?
“Less is more!” All too often, we allow ourselves to get caught up in grandiose ideas when all that is necessary to convey the right feeling may be a singular item or image. Too much stuff can easily suppress a desired mood and loose the dramatic impact.
And the worst?
”Theatre artists must eat and breathe their art form.“ We have all heard the phrase, “Artists must be willing to suffer for their art.” I learned very early in my career that it was important to have a life outside of my work. I am passionate about my art, but it is imperative to have other mental and physical outlets. During my lunch breaks in college, I would turn pottery in the art lab where I made new friends and experienced a mental a physical change of pace. Over the years, I have tried to impress upon my students the importance of finding time to relax and spend with loved ones and family, but most importantly, to have time outside the work environment.