July 2012

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July 2012

News From Lea Asbell-Swanger, USITT President

A Call for Connections

USITT traditionally has the passing of the gavel ceremony to the incoming President at the Annual Conference so that many people can participate in the occasion. Lea Asbell-Swanger official took office on July 1. For those who were not able to hear Ms. Asbell-Swanger in Long Beach, we present her remarks as her first column as President.

Some of you, as well as colleagues not active with USITT, have asked me why I wanted to become the USITT President, and I have to admit when first asked, I found it hard to explain. But I had an experience a few weeks ago that provided an "aha!" moment for me that I would like to share with you.

In addition to USITT, I belong to a group of university-based performing arts centers known as MUPS (that's Major University Presenters and yes, the executive directors came up with that one on their own and the marketing directors all wish they had been consulted). Anyway, the operational/production folks from some of these organizations all gathered in Philadelphia in early March.

As this was our first "official" gathering, we were provided with a consultant who has been working with the member organizations for several years, so he knew more about us than we did about each other. We spent a couple of days talking about successes and challenges, how our operations were the same or different, and how more communication among the groups might be helpful. (Sounds a little like what we do here, doesn't it?)

Of course these discussions included a lot of specifics and detail. (I did say that we were the operations people, remember.) On our last morning together, Jerry, our facilitator, asked us why we did the work we did .Why had we chosen this line of work and ended up in the positions that we were in? The room went quiet. (Quite a feat, considering…)

After a few minutes somebody said, "I'm not sure, but I can't imagine doing anything else." There were nods around the room, and eventually, with Jerry's help and a bit more discussion, we admitted that we had a passion for our work. Perhaps defined a little differently for each of us, but passion nonetheless, and sometimes we get so caught up in the details that we forget to connect with that passion. I thought, "Aha!"

After I got home, I looked up a definition of "passion," because that's just the kind of geek I am. It's interesting to note that the word originates from the Greek verb meaning "to suffer" and who here hasn't done that at some point? The most basic definition is an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire and, as most of us know, passion overwhelms reason time and again. What else could explain Tom Hall's decision to tell his father that he was going to pursue theatre instead of law school during the family Christmas gathering?

Tom was not the only one of our Distinguished Achievement Award winners to mention a passion for theatre. They all did and, while different experiences might have sparked that passion, it has been the human connection — the interaction between audience and the story tellers — that has guided it.

We are all the storytellers; we collaborate using a variety of materials, techniques, and technology, but at the heart of it is the story. To me, this week that we share each year is an opportunity to rekindle that passion: to refresh the storyteller in each of us; to connect in a way that is not possible in other media but in person.

I always leave each USITT Annual Conference both exhausted and energized. As I look forward to the next three years of service to you, the members, I am sure that I will achieve new levels of both. I will need help, good counsel, and guidance. I'm thankful to know that I will get that from the Board of Directors, the staff, and other volunteer leadership, but I also need it from the rest of you.

In closing, I'll borrow with permission from our incredible keynote speaker, Luis Valdez, "The future belongs to those who can imagine it." As your President, I want all of us to imagine it together!

Ms. Asbell-Swanger also noted "To all of you that have so graciously welcomed me to my upcoming role as President, I truly appreciate all the offers for assistance and support. I've secretly recorded all of those offers, and will be in touch with each of you in the very near future." If you don't want to wait for that phone call, click the link below and e-mail her directly.

Lea Asbell-Swanger

We'd like to hear your comments on this story.
Please e-mail Lea at lea.asbellswanger@usitt.org.