November 2014

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November 2014

News From Lea Asbell-Swanger, USITT President

Lessons from Star Trek – around the world

Patrick Rizzotti, winner of USITT's Young Designers & Technicians Award for Scene Design sponsored by Rose Brand, appears on the Theatres Trust stage at PLASA.

Photo/Christine Troscher

" boldly go where no one has gone before." Some of you know this quote as part of the signature monologue that began each episode of the TV series, Star Trek. Originally, it was "... to boldly go where no man has gone before," but an ever-expanding understanding of equality created that change twenty years later.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was a "Trekkie" – a member of the then unofficial fan base and devotee of the show from its original run that began in 1966. I knew most of the characters and story-lines from each episode in ridiculous detail and for better or worse still retain some of that information.

Why I am confessing this love of such specific trivia? As it happened, while in London last month representing USITT at PLASA, we discovered that PLASA was sharing the Excel Center with a Star Trek convention. Sadly, we only overlapped on Sunday, PLASA's first day, so I was unable to attend the other convention, but we did have a chance to mingle with some of the fully costumed attendees in the shared food court.

Some of those fans had gone all out and had created very authentic, yet personal versions of their favorite character. Others would have benefitted from guidance from the costuming expertise of some of our members. It was fun to be reminded of my earlier fascination with this community and a little frightening for my travel companions (David Grindle, Christine Troscher, Lori Furcinito, Patrick Rizzotti, and his wife Sara Bellino) as they learned that I remember far too much from that experience.

Of course, we were in London for different reasons. USITT has a booth space at PLASA, much like PLASA does at our Stage Expo. It provides an opportunity for us to engage members who attend PLASA, but may not attend our annual conference regularly. It also gives us a chance to meet industry professionals from other countries who can offer possible collaborations or training to our members beyond our borders. Additionally, there are leaders of associations similar to USITT in many countries and it has been valuable to develop stronger relationships with them. It has led to sharing ideas about new and improved ways to serve our memberships.

One such idea that has really taken off is taking one of the YD&T winners abroad. We started this with the Show Tech conference in Berlin in 2013 and this year we invited Patrick Rizzoti, our 2014 Award for Scenic Design sponsored by Rose Brand winner, to join us at PLASA. He offered an excellent presentation about some of his realized work as well as exhibiting a preliminary peek into what he's working on currently. He was also a natural ambassador for USITT in general – very comfortable chatting with visitors who wanted to know more about our organization, but also inquisitive about some aspects of the Institute with which he was less familiar. He will be an asset to our industry and USITT and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to spend quality time with him. It reminds me of the importance, not to mention sheer enjoyment, of making time to connect with the variety of people that USITT includes.

David Grindle and I left the PLASA conference a little early in order to visit one of our member institutions, the Arts University of Bournemouth. You may not know that our second highest number of members comes from the United Kingdom, so visiting seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. After a short train ride, our hosts provided us a tour of their facilities, confirmed that they would have representation at our next conference, and we chatted about how we could share training and educational information.

Finally, David and I headed back to the States, but not home. We were invited to the BoardSource Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. as one of the finalists for their Prudential Leadership Award for Exceptional Nonprofit Boards. This award recognizes nonprofit boards that exemplify exceptional governance and that demonstrate the concept of "Governance by Design" for their board and organization. We were honored to reach the finalist stage as one of three out of more than 50 nominees.

We were not the grand prize winner, but it was clear that the efforts of the board over the last several years have been recognized and validated and everyone that is a part of USITT should be proud of the organizational leadership we've developed.

Special thanks to Sylvia Hillard Pannell, Carl Lefko, and Joe Aldridge who were the USITT Presidents that led us through the transition to governance and to David Grindle, who was willing to accept the challenge of being the first Executive Director of the transition period.

One could say they all went "boldly where no one had gone before" and for that we should be grateful. This transition, this growth, will allow USITT to "live long and prosper."

USITT representatives talk about the organization at the USITT booth at PLASA in London.

Photo/David Grindle

Lea Asbell-Swanger

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