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For the Record

USITT’s Southeast Section Master Classes provided new experiences as well as moments of reflection for USITT President Carl Lefko.

Photo/David Wheeler

Memories from the Past, Dreams for the Future

Carl Lefko

Following a hands-on session on MIG welding, I finished washing off the grime and, of course, there were no paper towels to be found in the scene shop. I began shaking the water off when my wedding band slid off and rolled into the paint well. My heart dropped to my knees as I foresaw the inevitable – how do I tell my wife? As I peered down the paint well, I saw several feet of scrap wood and knew that my fear was getting closer to reality. I climbed down onto the stack of scrap lumber expecting the worst when a glint of shiny gold caught my eye. It was 1977 and I was beginning my journey with USITT.

USITT’s recent Southeast Master Classes were both informative and nostalgic, as I returned to the University of North Carolina- Greensboro for an event that drew participants from throughout the region. I received my graduate degree from UNC-Greensboro, but that was not the only reason I paused during the sessions. It also was where Bob Thurston asked me for $20 and signed me up for the very first Southeast Master Class in 1977. That event was held at Wake Forest and was the first demonstration of MIG welding I’d seen and was my first experience with the then-new flexible staging on campus.

This single event not only launched my active participation in the Section and ultimately culminated with my current role on the national level, but more importantly laid the foundation for my mentoring of young designers and technicians. Since then, I too have “arm-twisted” a few individuals and students explaining the value of getting outside our comfortable day-to-day routines and learning something new, seeing a new process, or being reminded of best practices.

It was great to see Delbert Hall, who was in grad school with me, teaching one of the rigging seminars, and listen to Deborah Bell (who received a USITT fellowship to further her research) discussing drawing techniques. I sat in on a session by Les Martin, Care & Feeding Of Your Fly System, and was quickly reminded what not to do.

Several Radford students were helping David Wheeler demonstrate his air cannon, shooting T-shirts into the waiting hands of their audience. It was all great fun, but it reminded us of all the information and resources which Regional Sections provide each year. And it makes us think about what a vast body of knowledge students will have as they work in the industry in the near future.

Those attending the Master Classes in Greensboro in 2010 face a very different future than what we have experienced in the past three decades. It is almost incomprehensible to realize that all those years have flown by, filled with new challenges and technological leaps forward. Talking to those who were having their first experience of a USITT event made me realize again what a vital function this organization performs. For those of us with a few years of experience, there are always connections to be renewed. For those just starting their exploration of the industry, the possibilities are almost limitless.

It was great to see Bob Thurston again, who after 32 years continues to mentor his now older student. I have learned the importance of not just introducing USITT to our youth but the act of giving back to the organization that has helped each of us grow and mature. As we build on the success of our first 50 years, it is my sincere hope that a new era of philanthropy will emerge.

As the T-shirts were sent aloft to eagerly awaiting students, I stopped to ponder; how many of these young designers and technicians will be leading this great organization in another 30 years?

Because of all that we have achieved, it is vital that we provide the best possible stewardship so that our future can be just as challenging and eventful as our past 50 years.

Plan to be part of the 50th Annual Conference & Stage Expo in Kansas City, Missouri March 31 to April 3 as we take the next major step in watching our future unfold and launch, with much fanfare, the next 50 years of USITT.

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