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For the Record
Table for Two at the Gratitude Café

By Jay Sheehan

Each year, during the weeks following the USITT conference, I take time to reflect and take a moment to be grateful. Grateful to the USITT committees and staff that always put together a diverse and engaging program, grateful to the students and faculty that I come in contact with, and especially grateful to my colleagues on the Management Commission.

As I returned home, I began to put the list together of people that I needed to send a thank you note to. As I thought more about my growing list of “thank yous,” I wondered to myself if students and faculty, with the immense amount of technological tools at their fingertips, still sent thank you cards in the mail. Have Facebook and Twitter replaced the art of the hand written note? Does an e-mail blast “thank you” suffice in today’s world of “electronic gratitude”? What happened to the art of writing thank you notes by hand?

I saw a class experiment beginning to unfold.

With this newfound intrigue, I returned to San Diego State and asked my Intro to Stage Management class a simple question: When was the last time they hand wrote a thank you card to someone that they were grateful to? Not an email “thank you”…not a text “thank you,” but a note with an actual stamp and put in the mailbox. The answers were a surprise to me. Out of 11 students, only three had sent thank you cards in the past year.

At that moment I shared my thoughts of the past week, and we decided on the experiment. Within the next week, every student was to find one person he was grateful to and send him a thank you card in the mail. The students all participated, and we eagerly waited to see what came from it.

Two weeks later the results were in and impressive. All 11 students had received some type of positive feedback about their notes -- a “thank you for the thank you.” Four reconnected with people that they were grateful to, but had somehow burnt a bridge along the way, and were now on the way to mending relationships. Two actually got gig offers as they happened to pop back up in people’s lives at the right time.

I am happy to report that, in class that day, gratitude was the topic of stage management. The students began to understand the concept and how to apply it on a more regular basis with their production teams and shop staffs. It was a topic that, while not on the syllabus, became a very important spontaneous and useful process which we will continue in the course work in the future.

We should all take a moment to be grateful to someone in our lives…and let them know how they have affected us. Send a card; people appreciate it! The proof is in the classroom.

Jay Sheehan is on the Management Commission and is a member of the faculty at San Diego State University. As the production manager for the School of Theatre, Television and Film, he heads the management emphasis and teaches courses in stage management, production and facilities management, and producing international festivals for children. He and Management Commissioner Carolyn Satter co-teach a course in special event planning for SDSU.

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