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For the Record

USITT President Sylvia Hillyard Pannell spoke about her two years in office at the conclusion of the 2008 Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Houston, Texas last March.

Photo/Richard Finkelstein


The Fondest of Farewells

Sylvia Hillyard Pannell
USITT President

The secret of a good sermon, George Burns advises, is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.

I shall take George Burns's advice as I bid adieu to you as outgoing president and prepare to join the august ranks of USITT past presidents.

It has been an honor and my pleasure to serve as President of this wonderful organization that has been so important in the professional and personal lives of many of us here tonight, and I thank you all for giving me this opportunity. As I review the plans and promises that I made at this banquet two years ago, I find that in some areas we have made good progress; others await new leadership and another day. What is certain is that accomplishments that have occurred during my term as President could not have happened without collaboration and support of the leadership and membership of the organization and the professionalism, business acumen, generosity, depth of understanding, and concern for USITT of our office staff. I sincerely thank you all!

At nearly 50 years of age, USITT has had a good run. Approaching such a milestone signals a time to take stock of our organization. However, the past should be a guidepost -- not a hitching post. At its fall 2006 Retreat, the USITT Board of Directors issued a warning that, if our organization is to continue to be valuable to the theatre and the entertainment industry, we must make some deliberate changes.

To quote Andy Warhol, "They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."

The Board of Directors called for USITT to become better defined, more current, more visible, and more efficient. With the understanding that an impartial viewpoint was needed to obtain a realistic appraisal of USITT and to plan for our future the firm of McCarthy Arts Consulting was selected to conduct an assessment of our organization. After a yearlong study, McCarthy Arts Consulting will deliver its final report in June -- a strategic plan for USITT to embark on as we approach our 50th birthday and beyond.

With this assessment, we are seeking to assure that USITT will attain both its service goals and assume its proper position within the field at large. Thanks to those of you, possibly most of you, who have participated one way or another in this organizational study through surveys, focus groups, and other data gathering tools.

Change is afoot; some has already occurred. In October USITT's National Office moved from Ridings Road, an isolated location on the outskirts of Syracuse, New York to South Crouse Commons, a location within Syracuse's Cultural Corridor, kitty-corner to Syracuse Stage and just a few blocks north of the heart of the Syracuse University Campus. For the first time, our Fall Board of Directors meetings were held at the USITT National Office, which is spacious, conveniently located, nicely appointed, and, thanks to our staff, quite comfortable. We hope that you will have the opportunity, someday, to visit USITT's National Office, the epicenter of USITT activity.

And then there is change -- in the more literal sense, coin of the realm. Many of you have given generously to the USITT funds of your choice, and I thank you most sincerely for that. As these funds grow, they will continue to support many of the projects that are so meaningful to our membership and the entertainment industry. The oldest of these, the Eddy Kook Fund, has supported USITT members' research and development for more than a quarter of a century. Tonight you have seen striking examples of that process at work with Grants & Fellowship Chair Tim Kelly presenting four grants in support of very interesting research.

The Samuel H. Scripps International fund has made it possible for our members to have many international experiences -- in particular the Prague Quadrennial. But there is much more we can do to provide USITT with ample monetary underpinnings. It is time for us all to continue or begin giving back to our professional organization that has done so much for us.

At the Keynote Address and Annual Meeting we heard Larry Hill report on our successful fund-raising campaign currently underway -- USITT@50 Honoring our Past, Securing our Future. Thanks to all of you who have heeded the call. This is our opportunity to assure that our future generation of theatre designers and technologists may have the advantages that this very special organization has provided its membership for nearly 50 years. As your president, I am asking you to contribute to one or more of USITT's funds throughout the remainder of this campaign and beyond. To those of you who have already contributed, thank you!

In closing, I offer my most sincere thanks to the Executive Committee, Commissioners, Committee Chairs, contractors, staff, and the wonderful membership for giving me the opportunity to serve as President of USITT. It is an honor and a privilege and, most of the time, it is lots of fun!

So Carl, with a new National Office site, exciting strategic plans forthcoming, an energized fundraising effort underway and developing, a 50th Birthday Conference/celebration upcoming, winds of change prevail. Your term of office will inaugurate USITT's next half century. And membership, I assure you, you have placed this job in very capable hands.

As we pass the gavel, and having begun my speech with a quote from George Burns, it seems appropriate to end with Gracie Allen who observed, "The President of today is just the postage stamp of tomorrow."

Thank you all!

Presented at the USITT Awards Banquet, March 22, 2008 in Houston, Texas

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