April 2018

Print this page ›

April 2018

Thoughts from Mark Shanda

USITT President

At the opening keynote address for our recent Annual Conference & Stage Expo on March 14, 2018, I shared the following with those in attendance. Many who heard these words expressed their appreciation and asked that I share with the whole membership.

The mission of USITT is to connect performing arts design and technology communities to ensure vibrant dialogue among practitioners, educators, and students. Let that mission statement roll around in your head for just a minute and please keep that central to your engagement for the balance of the week. Some key words that jump out to me include community and vibrant dialogue. In this past year, our community has faced challenges that we never imagined we would face and the need for vibrant dialogue is critical.

On the night of Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, leaving 58 people dead and 851 injured. Members of this organization were working and attending that event, lost friends attending that event, were working productions in nearby Las Vegas venues, and there are most certainly people in attendance at this Conference who were directly impacted by this heinous act. What is an appropriate response?

As an Institute, at this Conference we are offering a session entitled Situational Awareness, Planning and Process for Active Shooter/Armed Aggressor Scenarios. We have brought experts in the field on this topic, for which there is not a chapter in Burris-Meyer and Cole, or Gillette, or Wolf and Block. What, unfortunately has become essential training for those of us in the live entertainment industry, is being provided by USITT. What is an appropriate response?

Today, our Conference starts less than 30 miles away from the site of the most recent mass school shooting in our country. While this act of horror has affected us all, this week you may well encounter someone either attending this Conference or working at this convention center, at the hotels, and on the many busses transporting us around who attended a funeral for any one or more of the 17 people killed. All of us struggle to make sense of this senseless act and to determine how we move forward. What is an appropriate response?

As an Institute, we have reached out to students, faculty, and staff at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, offering them free Conference registrations. We have joined in an effort started by our brothers and sisters in theatre to share theatre memorabilia to make the school more welcoming by sending USITT-published materials and branded items to the school. We have begun talks about what additional training and educational programming the Institute might be able to offer in the future. What is an appropriate response?

This very day, the Women’s March Youth Empower organization has called for a National School Walkout for 17 minutes starting at 10:00 a.m. One minute of silence and group response to reflect on each one of the lives of the 17 persons lost in this senseless killing spree and to call attention to needed action by those in power to address the issues of safety in our schools and in our society in general. What is an appropriate response?

On March 24, Survivors of the February 14 shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School and other students are planning a protest in Washington, D.C., called the “March for Our Lives.” Sister marches are anticipated to take place in other cities around the world. What is an appropriate response?

On April 20, the nineteenth anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, a nationwide walkout of schools, titled by some the “No Kids Left” event, protesting historic inaction to date and demanding new action, is urging parents to keep their children out of school for the entire day. What is an appropriate response?

Today, at 10:00 a.m., our stage manager for this morning’s keynote will call “Hold Please.” At that time, we will take a pause in our Conference schedule to honor all of those lives lost to violent and senseless actions in the last 12 months. When that hold is called, I would ask all who wish to and are able, to stand for a few moments of silence, until “thank you” is called. Following this shared act, our regular Conference programming will resume. An appropriate response? I don’t know for certain, but a necessary action given the bonds of our community and our basic humanity.

Each of us as individuals is called to make a choice as to how to respond to the events around us. As an Institute, we are called to embrace our community even more strongly than we have done in the past. To continue to offer a forum for vibrant dialogue and to offer quality education and training in not only how to prepare for such tragedies, how to deal with the aftermath of such events, but also how to work to prevent another violent act of senseless killing. We need to support the vibrant dialogue regarding issues of equity, equality, diversity, cultural understanding, and safety in our programming and interactions with each other throughout this week.

I struggle to find a personal way to appropriately respond to the tragedies that I have spoken of, but I do celebrate the fact that we are here this week, working together to improve our industry, working together to make stronger connections with each other, working together to understand the diversity in our membership, and simply working together to make the world a better place.

Mark Shanda

We'd like to hear your comments on this story.
Please e-mail Mark at mark.shanda@uky.edu.