September 2015

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September 2015

News From David Grindle, USITT Executive Director

Summer Reading Yields Insights to Innovation

I get a lot of magazines and books to read in my role as Executive Director, but one goal I have is to read all of the books that USITT publishes. Currently I am reading Richard Thomas’s The Designs of Abe Jacob.

For an opera stage manager to read a book about sound design is an interesting adventure. But, like most of our Designs of… series, this book is full of interesting stories and quotes. One in particular struck me today.

When telling the story of installing productions of Hair with Abe, Jules Fisher said, “…all of the things we were doing were, I wouldn’t say revolutionary, but they were unusual, and they weren’t traditional.”

That quote summed up everything that excites me about what we do in live entertainment. The people that break the rules, the people that don’t ask why, but ask why not, the people who look at something and find every use for it except the intended one -- these are the people who drive our industry. The Designs of series of books keep referencing the same people who took this approach in the 1970s and 1980s (some even earlier). This makes me stop and ask, “Who we are going to be talking about like that in the future? Who today will be looked back on as that level of innovator?”

I can name some pretty amazing people who are on the cutting edge of design and technology. Are they really the people we are going to write books about? I’ve gotten to meet many of the subjects of these books and of the books to come. The thing they have in common is a humble attitude. They say that their work isn’t great, “It’s just what I do.” And perhaps that tells us who we will be writing about in years to come.

A mentor in theatre once told me you learn your best work when every convenience is unavailable. Abe Jacob said he thought the quality of a music group was inversely proportional to the number of trucks they toured with. This attitude of relying on simplicity and creativity drives innovation and propels design and technology forward. Embracing the attitude expressed by Jules Fisher in that quote is what I love about the people who work in design and technology.

Just because no one has done it doesn’t mean it is impossible. It may not be perfect, but it may be the one way to perfection. Just because it’s the newest technology, doesn’t mean it is ready for prime time. (Just read about the wireless mics that shut down three nights of Jesus Christ Superstar. They weren’t ready then, they are the norm now.) But none of that stopped people from trying. They used plan A, B, C, and probably on to the AA, BB, and CC’s before they found something that worked.

Perhaps in today’s instant society when many just Google the fix and assume that is the answer, we’ve lost the patience for being unusual and not traditional. But is that a good thing? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. But we must be willing to try in order to make new discoveries. We might, as Thomas Edison said, find 10,000 ways that don’t work before we stumble down the path of the one that will.

I’ll end with another quote from Jules Fisher about installing Hair: “I was so naïve; I had no idea what was going on. But we had a wonderful time; I remember those were enjoyable journeys.”