For Mark Shanda, July 1 was an interesting day. He took office as USITT’s Vice-President for Communications, and he became Interim Dean of Arts and Humanities at Ohio State University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Mark has been a USITT member for more than 25 years and has served two stints, separated by several years, on the Board of Directors. He is just starting his 25th year at OSU, and has been chair of the Department of Theatre for five years. The opportunity to serve as Interim Dean comes as the College of Arts and Sciences undergoes a restructuring – five colleges are being combined into one college with three divisions.
That means that this fall, for the first time in more than 35 years, he will not have a production on his schedule. Instead, he’ll be juggling 1,492 grad students; 41 majors and 56 minors; 5,200 undergraduates; and 530 faculty members, along with his work with USITT’s leadership in shaping the organization’s future.
Mr. Shanda is looking forward to the joint challenges this year will bring, while still keeping in mind the need for balance between various segments of his life. He created workshops on examining and maintaining critical work/life balance and notes that Stan Abbott was looking at stress in live performing arts long before that was popular. Mark sees job-related stress and the need for balance as particularly acute for theatre people. “Institutions can set us up for failure, or our own expectations of what can be accomplished can do the same thing.”
Trying to fit in work assignments, family, hobbies, and professional activities can be especially challenging for those in our industry. He’s only missed two Annual Conferences in 24 years, he notes, and even though his wife said he could attend the USITT Annual Conference in 1989, while she was in labor for their daughter, he opted to put family first.
He stressed that the only two universal facts about children is that they start small and get bigger, and that they change your life.
For Mark, one of the great values of USITT is that it provides connections to both colleagues and businesses. He credits Stage Expo as the place where his relationships with Paul Vincent of Vincent Lighting and Fred Foster of ETC, among others, were strengthened. Networking with students, teachers, manufacturers, and sales reps through USITT confirms that: “There is never only one way to solve a problem and we are never really alone in those production challenges that we face,” he notes.
He sees the path ahead as an adventure, something that will be constantly changing and evolving. There has been much change in his time at Ohio State. As an example, when he was hired at OSU after receiving his degrees from Iowa State and the University of Wisconsin, the Theatre Department had one computer, and it was rented!
At the core of USITT’s membership, Mark sees a shared response to challenges. “You can call or e-mail someone at the end of a rehearsal and by the next work call you are likely to have several potential answers to your problem. Sometimes we find that the simplest, and often overlooked, solution can be the best.”
He and his wife, Ginny, have two daughters, one a college senior and the other a high school sophomore, all three of whom have helped him maintain his positive life/work balance. Shanda has one obsession, his Matchbox vehicle collection that includes more than 1,500 pieces and is an avid reader of political thrillers – perhaps a hold-over from his undergraduate major of political science.
“I’m inspired by the work of others,” he said “and I am looking forward to that dialog.”