Next Story in this issue
News & Notices
News From:
Conference & Stage Expo
For the Record
Anchored in the Past,
Sailing into the Future

Carl Lefko
USITT President

It is 1977, and I am a lowly first year graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro working in prop storage which, at the time, was located in the bowels of Aycock Auditorium in a wind tunnel. Suddenly, out of now where, a dark imposing shadow hovers over me. I looked up, and the imposing figure who would come to be known at Stage Expo as the "Man in the Gold Jacket," Bob Thurston, instructs me to give him $20 to attend what I have come to learn was the first USITT Southeast Master Class held in the fall of 1977 on the Wake Forest University campus.

At the time, I had no clue what USITT stood for or even why I was going. As far as I was concerned, it could have been United Steel in Theatre Today. Something was mentioned about a new theatre with flexible staging and a session on MIG welding. I was simply being led by my graduate mentor and told this would be good experience for me. He never said that this trek would last over 30 years and include becoming Chair of the Southeast Regional Section and eventually becoming President of an organization I could not even tell my wife what the acronym, USITT, stood for.

Thirty-one years later, I have numerous stories but, more importantly, countless reasons to tell my students and colleagues why it is important to become a member and be involved with the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. I can even elaborate at length the profound impact USITT has had on my career and life. Many of you probably have similar stories and can now articulate clearly the value of being a member of the Institute.

As I look out over this group, I see friends, colleagues, associates, and even former students who have become a major part of my professional life. These endearing relationships have become imbedded in the heart and foundation of this Institute. The question we currently are asking is how can we secure our future while not loosing the fundamental qualities that have brought success in our first 50 years?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with you over the next two years as the President of USITT. I am fortunate to have worked with many of you already and look forward to forming new relationships as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of USITT. And celebrate we will as USITT reflects on its distinguished heritage while working to solidify another 50 years.

Many have already been working hard to plan this momentous event, most notably the 50th Steering Committee led by Bobbi Owen, which has established a guiding theme for the celebration "Honoring Our Past While Securing Our Future."

We are currently in the final stages of a review of the organization by McCarthy Arts Consulting. This process has involved every aspect of the organization from exhibitors to conference attendees, Executive Committee, the Office Staff, the Board of Directors, Commissioners, and Sections all providing valuable input as we closely examine our past. We are exploring how to best meet the needs of our membership over the next 50 years.

Can we remain relevant to our membership if we continue on our current path? Do we need to explore changes that will strategically position the Institute on an even more solid foundation constructed specifically for the 21st century? To accomplish this successfully, how much change will be needed? Change – a word that often brings negative connotations and fear. I have never been one who supports change just for the sake of change. Change always brings many challenges, but it can be a healthy and reinvigorating experience if planned with intent and purpose.

The 21st Century task force, led by Bill Byrnes, is working closely with McCarthy Arts Consulting to coordinate the external review and will soon be making recommendations on how to reposition the Institute to meet the challenges of a fast-paced, mobile, electronic world. We are living in an age where children are more electronically savvy than their parents. Facebook is not a bedtime story, YouTube is not a new television set, and Bluetooth is not a 21st century reincarnation of the Smurfs.

How can the Institute compete and prosper in this new age where texting requires thumb exercises and a Wii is not the exclamation we repeat as we reach for the sky on the swing set. This new age of electronics and technology has a direct effect on every aspect of the entertainment industry. Our task force has a formidable challenge, but I am confident we will soon see a comprehensive plan that positions USITT as a major force in the entertainment industry for the 21st century.

Let us reach for the sky once again as we work together in guiding the changes that will assure our success in the years to come.

In order that we secure the future it is critical each member carefully examine his connection with the Institute. We regularly talk about USITT benefits. We even list them on our website and in the directory.

A strong organization needs good leadership. Almost everyone in this room is involved in some leadership capacity. As leaders in USITT, we are often asked by our constituents what the benefits of being a member are. It is now time to answer that question for a new generation. We must raise the bar by addressing a new set of expectations coming from our members who do know that Blueray and the Wii are cutting edge technology. In order for us to effectively address these needs, change is inevitable.

I now need you to look at what role USITT currently plays in your life. Many of you give generously of your time, some contribute financially, and others take on leadership roles. The future of this Institute depends on each of you! It is now time to construct a bridge to our future, and I pose one question to everyone tonight. What can you do to help build this bridge for USITT? By joining together and embracing positive change, we will be able to build a bridge that secures the future of USITT for the next 50 years. Thank you!

This speech was presented at the Awards Banquet of the 48th Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Houston, Texas where Carl Lefko received the gavel of office. His two-year term runs from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2010.

To Top