Last weekend we attended the TCG (Theater Communications Group) Conference hosted here in San Diego. We were apprehensive at first, picturing ourselves walking into a highschool cafeteria situation, sitting in our corner of freaks while the cool kids rocked out together. Why is this? Well, first off we were one of the smallest companies in attendance and second while the conference's official theme was "crossing borders" the more over-powering theme seemed to be: money. On day one rather than joining our fellow artists in a celebration of the art form we love, we were divided into groups by race and budget. This forced a division amongst attendees that many of us felt was unnecessary. Yes funding is an important discussion, as is recognizing our differences, but highlighting those so much throughout the conference in such a forced way caused an uncomfortable atmosphere that made many attendees question if they would return after that first day. But my registration fee was paid and I was not going to give up.
Like any conference it can be hard to find the right session to attend. The vague titles and unclear descriptions made it difficult to create a plan that would prove beneficial. In my time at the conference I had some great discussions with people I would never have met otherwise. I learned about several interesting funding opportunities and some great organizational advice. Much of this took place outside of the conference programming however, so at moments I wondered if I could have had the same experience if I had just showed up and hung out in the hallways of the Hilton rather than actually registering. There was one panel that was truly special. It was called "2042: Imagining the Future for Young Administrators in Theatre". We entered the room on the final morning of the conference and found ourselves in a large circle of 50 or so people who were either young in terms of age or young in terms of time in their career. Not divided by race, gender, sexuality, or budget. Just people eager to learn and talk about the state of theater in the US. We broke into smaller group discussions led by our wonderful and upbeat panel leaders. In these groups we discussed how were are perceived in the industry, how we can avoid burn out, how we can help bridge the gaps between us and the old guard. We just talked and everyone felt welcome and appreciated. We talked and made new friends and discovered new ways to succeed. We talked until we had to end and everyone wished it would just keep going. The funny part is that the conference had attempted to eliminate this panel from the schedule. It's hard to believe that a session that proved to mean so much to the future leaders of our art form would be so undervalued by TCG and hidden away at the end of the conference. On the positive side, I will continue the relationships I made there and try my best to keep the discussions going.
I recognize that running a non profit in the US requires a lot of time and forethought focused on financial stability. But I can't help feeling that gearing most things to million dollar (and over) budgets left the have not's a bit lost last weekend. Many of the largest theater companies today began in basements, beaches, parks, dirt lots, and store fronts with the simple mission of providing opportunities for new artists and give art to their local communities. While a remembrance of this was echoed in the final plannery through the powerful words of 30+ historical theater creators who strove to provide art to our nation; the conference itself seemed to avoid the fact that such endeavours still exist today. That small organizations who struggle constantly to afford their productions also hold the future of American Theater in their hands. At a time when the main discussion is how we can diversify our audience base (a problem we at Circle luckily don't face thanks to you out there reading this) you would think a conference themed for diversity and inclusion would attempt to mentor and welcome small companies a bit more and try to provide programming that would bring us together rather than push us apart.
All ranting aside I must say that the weekend was an important experience for me. It was nice to step away from everyday busy life for a bit and be around like-minded people talking about theater. I'm not the best at the whole networking thing, but I felt this situation helped me improve on that. I did gain some knowledge that will serve me well and I think that if the conference comes to your town next and you intend to work in theater administration you should definitely try to attend.
So, emboldened by this new experience and as our 4th and largest season looms before us, we at Circle Circle dot dot would like to make a pledge to you. We pledge to continue creating interesting, challenging, thought-provoking, fascinating, diverse, beautiful, original, and entertaining art. We will produce work that records a layered modern narrative and entices new audiences by reflecting their lives onstage. We will share more real stories to give you a glimpse beyond borders. We will take every opportunity to work with and lift up our fellow arts institutions so that San Diego can grow to an even greater cultural center. We will strive to be a source of learning, opportunity, and escape. And most importantly we will all have fun!
-Patrick Kelly, Managing Director of Circle Circle dot dot.