July 2011

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July 2011

The Last Word:

Bringing the Theatre Technology World Together

Reflections by Alexandra Bonds outgoing Vice-President for International Activities

A goddess paper puppet.

Photos/Sandy Bonds

I didn't intend to be USITT's Vice President for International Activities. The job didn't exist when Dick Durst asked me to run for the Chair of the International Committee. Taking on the responsibility of a committee seemed reasonable enough, but that simple "yes," like so many in our lives, utterly transformed me, and, if I did my job right, USITT, as well.

Since taking this position, I have been able to travel extensively to interact with our colleagues overseas and collect fascinating and unique memories. I attended a meeting of the OISTAT Costume Working Group in Belgium, held at the "Dark Nights," the incomparable 16th century home of Jerome and Christa Maeckelbergh. This small core of dedicated members meets annually for creative workshops based on local resources and culture.

Launching good wishes.

I was invited to be a workshop leader in the first OISTAT workshop, "From Ritual to Theatre," an exploration of the Taiwanese Ghost Festival. Teams of professionals and students created theatrical responses to their impressions of the local ceremonies. On this occasion, I saw the Hakka Holy Boar competition where the splayed skins of their largest boars are displayed like large drums, and I appeared onstage for the first time since freshman year, though completely concealed within a gigantic goddess paper puppet of my own design.

The following year, I traveled to Korea for their ritual workshop, this time making my own necklace of Buddhist prayer beads, kneeling and bowing prostrate as each one was added to the string. Our design team launched little plates of good wishes in a fountain, only to watch them sink from abundance.

In Maadi in childhood and as an adult.

I joined Dick Durst on his final USITT Study Tour to Egypt. Seeing the pyramids and cruising the Nile with USITT friends was unforgettable, as was the tour of the scene shop of the opera house where we discovered six inches of sawdust on the floor. A personal highlight was a nostalgic pilgrimage to my childhood home in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo, where I had lived with my family when I was three years old. As with USITT, the greatest value of these adventures was interacting with like-minded colleagues while extending the edges of learning, yet with the added advantage of going beyond national boundaries.

While the impact of these travels on my personal journey was significant, my principal aim was to raise the visibility of international activities for our membership and our global counterparts. In nine years, with support from Treva Reimer, we have increased our conference programming to fill the matrix and linked our international guests with the Costume, Scene Design, Sound, Technology, and Management Commissions to augment awareness of international theatre across the Institute. Regular programming now includes International Resources and Opportunities, hosted by Karen Glass, where USITT members present their overseas research and teaching experiences, and a session for OISTAT representatives to share the news of their Commissions and international workshops held in conjunction with their meetings.

We recently prepared our inaugural Professional Development Workshop. Participants were delighted with our leaders, Hakan Dundar and Ali Meric, for their enthusiasm and generosity about Turkish shadow puppetry. With careful management of the Samuel H. Scripps International Fund, we have instituted three travel grants -- one for members and one for students -- and a recently established a grant to bring international guests to the United States for workshops in colleges and universities. Study Tours guided by Dick Durst have shepherded members to Hungary and Romania, Southeast Asia, Greece, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Egypt and Jordan, and, of course, Prague, Czech Republic.

We launched the World Stage Design in Toronto, Canada in 2005, guided by Eric Fielding, and sent many of our members to the subsequent edition in Seoul, Korea in 2009. Our delegates to OISTAT, including Laura Crow, Rick Thomas, and Leon Brauner, have traveled the world bridging with our counterparts in a myriad of countries. In return, we have hosted the World Congress in 2005 and Commission meetings biennially. Michael Ramsaur spent a term as OISTAT President and remains on the Executive Committee.

By far the greatest involvement for me has been the honor of serving as the Commissioner and USITT-International Liaison for our representations in the National, Student, and Architecture Exhibits at the Prague Quadrennial. In 2003, Bob Scales and his students from USC built the exhibit designed by Bob Schmidt and Ursula Belden. In 2007, Tom Korder and his student team from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, constructed the exhibit designed by Nic Ularu and Madeleine Sobota, Mike Monsos and the students of The University of Montana, led by Artistic Director Susan Tsu and designer Bill Bloodgood, assembled the current edition for 2011.

With support from the Tobin Fund for Theatre Arts, we have enhanced our student presence in the PQ exhibits, designed by Tim Saternow in 2003, Ursula Belden in 2007, and a team of students for 2011. American Architecture, previously not shown in Prague, has been represented in each of these Quadrennials, under Michael Tingley, Richard Pilbrow, and Scott Georgeson. We have presented hundreds of American designers, students, and architects in this worldwide exposition and encouraged countless others to travel to Prague to partake in the concurrent activities. We no longer need to explain what the PQ is; rather designers seek us out to inquire about how to have their work shown there.

The catalog of achievements would be incomplete without the mention of support offered by three luminaries in USITT's international realm: Joel Rubin, who has provided me with his histories and insights; Dick Durst, who is always generous with his time and experience; and Leon Brauner, a gentle expert in navigating international politesse. My husband, Joseph, was always ready with quiet support and clear perceptions.

Many other volunteers, equally dedicated and too numerous to list, have offered their assistance for heightening our presence in world theatre, and our members are actively engaging in theatre globally bringing their experiences back to share with the membership. I am privileged to have served in what I believe to be the best job in USITT linking our members to the world and the world to our members through our conferences, OISTAT, and the PQ. Thank you for entrusting me with this mantle.