May 2016

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May 2016

The Last Word

When the Fire Fades: A Reflection on USITT 2016

Calan Welder USITT Student Member

In traveling to the immersive USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Salt Lake City in March, I was reminded that what we do as artists isn’t just confined to our universities and playhouses. We live and work in a world of endless possibilities with thousands of creative minds. Getting those minds together in a room to “stir the pot” made for a week of discovery in both professional relationships and technologies.

Mary McClung’s session on expandable foam opened my eyes to the intricacies and time investment of making “fleshy” masks through the use of chemical foams. This sparked my interest in involved craft mediums beyond the standard papier mache.

When I met her again on the Stage Expo floor, she countered my “Tell me about your company” with “Tell me about your work,” which felt every bit as much like an act of friendliness as it did an interview question. Our relationship was that of teacher and pupil, and it was comforting to speak with a professional on this level rather than as a subordinate, which would stifle and intimidate a young artist.

The Stage Expo floor was full of opportunity, and the more I networked, the more I came to realize the wisdom in seeking out those who may practice an unrelated discipline. But the truth is, there is no unrelated field. I met circus people, special effects technicians, and pyrotechnicians all standing shoulder to shoulder with theatre designers and actors.

I had no idea the vast scale of opportunities out there. It was reassuring to interview with people like Cirque and Disney, and it reinforced my belief in the advice, “apply everywhere.” You never know who’s going to pick you up.

The Keynote Address and flagship exposition by Tupac Martir was an inspiring presentation that reaffirmed my appreciation for visual art while reminding me that a theatre designer doesn’t have to design for the theatre any more than physicists have to confine themselves to a laboratory. Chemists, biologists, and engineers alike can find their place in theatre, like some theatre people find their place in fashion or extreme sports. It’s an incredible web of talent, and there’s no bad place to be caught in it.

In honoring distinguished artists, USITT makes no distinction between its international member base and artists here in the United States. Though he moved to the U.S. some time ago, it warmed my heart to see a student from China honored for his scenic design – a reminder that we’re all in the arts together.

We may be USITT, but we recognize artists from all origins and walks of life. That kind of community is what I think makes this organization work from the inside out.

I hope to return to the Conference & Stage Expo next year to see all the fantastic people I’ve met and the new technologies that help make our art shine. The community is unlike any other, and every member should consider making the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.