November 2017

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November 2017

Thoughts from David Grindle

USITT Executive Director

Working as an Industry to be Prepared

I was in grad school the first time I encountered claims of a non-prop weapon seen in the theatre. We were doing a production of the opera Nixon in China, and someone reported seeing what they believed to be a firearm tucked in someone’s belt in the restroom. No description of the alleged person could be given, and it was decided by the faculty that we would continue. We were doing a show where the lead was portraying an unpopular former U.S. president. I’m reasonably sure we were all nervous that evening.

Jump forward more than 20 years and we are faced with the fact that the world of entertainment can and will be a soft target for people wanting to do harm.

I write this not to discuss the second amendment, gun control, or any of those political issues. I write this to discuss preparedness.

We as an industry work to be prepared. We have backup plans for when something goes wrong in our shows. We have all had to improvise stage directions when a performer skipped a few lines or figure out what to do when a double click happens accidentally on a control board. We work to be prepared.

The horrible shooting in Las Vegas on October 1 brought up the discussion of preparedness. The role of USITT is to facilitate discussion about how to be prepared and safe working in an entertainment environment. The need for a plan isn’t just for horrible, unthinkable events like we saw. It is for weather, unrest, structural failure, or medical emergency. We as professionals must be ready to adapt in emergencies. While many among us are prepared, we must all be vigilant and willing to discuss and learn more about these situations.

While we are engaging these topics at the Conference in Fort Lauderdale, we all should be engaging those around us today in conversation and planning. We must work to understand the best procedures for our staff and patrons when something horrible happens. And if we have learned anything in the past 20 years, it is that the unthinkable will happen at some point. The question we must be prepared for is how do we think we will react? What is our plan and how will we respond?

In 2014, as Stage Expo was opening in Fort Worth, a line of spring storms with potential tornadoes was bearing down on the city. We gathered the USITT Conference leadership together with the Convention Center leadership to discuss appropriate spaces should we need to move people to safety. The convention center had a plan and they looped us in. The storms split and we didn’t need to activate the plan, but it was great to have partners that were prepared.

In Cincinnati in 2015, our attendees engaged in an emergency plan being activated, as that was the year we had a fire alarm go off and we had to evacuate the building. The USITT Conference team all worked together to clear the space and then get folks back in safely. I would like to tell you that it was because we had rehearsed what would happen, but it was because everyone, from attendee to Executive Director, worked together and communicated because we were professionals that respected safety. That year it was a false alarm. But the response of everyone gave me hope for the day when it may not be.

If you would like to read some interesting articles on safety, check out the Fall 2016 issue of TD&T. Check with your employer to see if emergency action plans exist. If they do, take a moment to read them. Where such plans don’t exist, encourage their creation. If you are able to join us in Fort Lauderdale, we want you to be part of the conversation. If you can’t be there, I encourage you to engage in the conversation where you are and with your network. Emergency preparedness is part of our lives. Let’s embrace it and learn from one another.