After almost 15 years of inactivity, the New York Area Section of USITT is making its comeback.
The section was deactivated in 1990 because business was too good, according to Rich Wolpert, newly elected chair of the section and the catalyst for its rebirth. "After a major conference in New York in 1990, the section just sort of fizzled out because holding the conference was so much work," he says. "Then the boom of the 90s hit and everyone became too busy to deal with it."
The first meeting held to discuss the re-launch of the NY Section occurred at the USITT conference in Long Beach in March after a flurry of emails and postings to the stagecraft.com site, according to Wolpert. "I volunteered my booth to discuss it and said I'd bring the beer," he says. "Within the next day and a half I got 35 to 40 emails and everyone was asking what do we do next to get this going." Wolpert, president of Union Connector in West Babylon, NY, spent more time discussing the section's reactivation at the Stage Expo rather than exhibiting his company’s wares.
Wolpert made a motion to the USITT's national board, which voted unanimously to reactivate the section making a lot of people happy from the NYC area. "The Board was ecstatic that New York was going to come back," he said. "My God, it's Broadway after all, the Mecca for the entire industry!"
Unlike most USITT sections, the NY section has demographic boundaries rather than geopolitical boundaries, enabling the section to extend beyond typical borders. For example, the NY section will include members as far south as Princeton, NJ, as far west as eastern Pennsylvania, as far north as Poughkeepsie, NY, and as far east as Hartford, CT, with the obvious epicenter in New York City.
"We want to reach as many people as can best be served," Wolpert explains. "If somebody from Massachusetts or the Chesapeake section wants to come be a part of one of our meetings, no problem. It's not going to be a situation where one section says, 'these are my members and you can’t have them.'"
One of the goals of the new NY section is to start a mentoring program for students just embarking on their careers. "If there's some kid working on his BFA, he needs to know who to see or where to go," Wolpert says. "This is what USITT is supposed to be and we want to make sure that the new kids get a step up or a hand." He added that the mentoring program is also an ideal way for New York area production companies or rental houses to find qualified employees or interns.
Luckily, getting the section legally reactivated was not as big a hassle has Wolpert had envisioned because it had never been officially "deactivated" because the old guard thought it would be too much trouble. Therefore the section is still incorporated in the state of New York and is considered an active corporation. Another pleasant surprise was the discovery of $5,000 in a checking account from the section’s previous incarnation.
The section is gaining momentum as a number of companies have volunteered to hold workshops and Wolpert feels that it will grow very quickly. "The New York section has the potential to be the biggest in the nation because people have been waiting for this to happen for a long time," he says.
Aside from Wolpert, the NY Section officers are: Scott Parker (vice chair; Rebecca Cunningham, secretary; Frank Herbert, treasurer; by-laws committee chairs Michael Eddy and Nadine Charlesen (vice chair); and Wolpert and Herbert will chair the membership committee. The next meeting is scheduled for April 16th.
For more information on the newly activated NY Section of USITT, email Rich Wolpert firstname.lastname@example.org.