September 2017

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September 2017

Thoughts from David Grindle

USITT Executive Director

Recently I found out that someone who had been a mentor to me early in my career, died. Dejan Miladinovic had returned home to Serbia as he did every summer, and died there on August 3. That was three days after the fourth anniversary of the death of another friend and mentor, Tayneshia Jefferson. I began to think about each of them and the lessons I learned.

Dejan Miladinovic was a father figure to me from another land who had lived through the rise and fall of Communism. Tayneshia Jefferson, a colleague just a few months younger than me, was an honest person who opened her arms and heart to everyone.

The thing each of them had in common was a love of life and humanity. They each showed a passion for the arts, the people that produced and consumed it, and the world that it reflected. They loved life, a good meal, and great conversation full of honest statements.

While I can easily wax nostalgic for my friends, I share this with you, the membership, because these people embodied the culture and spirit of USITT. They believed in the value of other people in collaboration. They loved to explore ideas, even if the end result was something not used, because you might get something useful along the creative pathway. That is what keeps us an ever-reinventing industry and organization. We don’t produce widgets, rather we take widgets and use them in ways that were never intended to produce results and moments that are almost beyond imagination.

Neither Tayneshia nor Dejan ever passed up a moment to explore and learn something while giving it their all. When that creative energy would flow in rehearsal, Dejan would look at me and say, “Now we are baking the real cake.” And before we would start something Tayneshia would always remind us, “Hey, don’t suck.”

They each understood that sometimes you have to let people make mistakes, or at least get dangerously close to making them, and then help them parse out the solution. Both Dejan and Tayneshia loved learning, but didn’t suffer foolishness. They celebrated life and joy with others because no matter how hard we worked in the theatre, there was always far more to each person’s life than the show we were doing at that moment.

USITT members are a growing group, both in number and diversity. The two people I write about were nothing alike on the surface. One, a man from Serbia, the other, a woman from Houston. One white, the other African-American. We could look at those surface characteristics and leave it there, but then you’d miss the commonalities: the passion, drive, desire, love of language, and sharp wit. You’d miss the caring and embraces, even when they were expressed with a poignant rebuke of your behavior. Not because they were better than you, but because they knew you were better than your behavior.

USITT brings people together. That sentiment is expressed in our Charter from 57 years ago. USITT has been the source of life-long friendships, business partnerships, and even a few marriages. If you are new to USITT, I hope that you find these people among us soon. They will enrich your life and make lasting impacts. If you’re one of our more “vintage” members, take a moment and reach out to that person you’ve not spoken with in awhile and check on them. You might let them know how you feel, or you might not, but make sure you say hello.

Dejan and Tayneshia never met. That’s a shame, because together they would have made some incredible art. But each of them impacted hundreds of people in our industry and you will, too, because you are part of a vibrant community creating dialogue and advancing our industry. Thank you for being a part of USITT, for being who you are, and impacting our world today.