Trustus Theatre has been a member of Theatre Communications Group for over a decade now. TCG is a nonprofit service organization headquartered in New York City that promotes and networks professional nonprofit theatres in the United States (check out their website: www.tcg.org). This year, Trustus is endeavoring to maximize our membership opportunities by attending TCG events as well as applying for grants offered by the group. So, last week, I packed a suitcase and took to the skies to attend the TCG National Theatre Conference in the beautiful city of Miami, FL. I even got to bring my wonderful wife with me.
The 2019 TCG National Theatre Conference took place for three consecutive days at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami. Overwhelmingly large, this conference provided over 1,000+ attendees an exploration which addressed the field’s most pressing issues, from the evolving landscape of fundraising, to organizational culture, to leadership development, all while nurturing the field’s growing commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. The Conference community engaged with thought leaders from within and beyond the arts to grapple with theatre’s true constant: the challenge of adapting and sustaining our organizations and our work in times of great change.
Since social justice is a focus of our programming at Trustus, I chose to attend workshops and breakout sessions that focused on that theme.
My first workshop was a TCG Lab called “EVER FORWARD: Addressing Culture Shift & the #MeToo Movement in the Theatre Field.” This three-hour lab addressed the many ways that safety, nurture, and caregiving can be provided to artists and audiences. I was encouraged to learn that the work Trustus has been doing this season with The Chicago Theatre Standards and the Pillars of Intimacy is not only “right on time,” but that we’re ahead of the game in comparison to many other organizations. There were also some enlightening considerations offered in regards to meeting audiences in an appreciative way by considering the singularity of their experience. For example, what is our late-seating policy? Do we have one? Or, if a patron gets up in the middle of a show and bolts for the door, perhaps ask them on their way out “if they’re ok?” It’s a possible moment of understanding and compassion rarely offered. [Admittedly, when I’ve seen patrons run for the door I’ve thought “Wow, they can’t handle it,” “Wow, they hate this,” or “never have spicy foods before seeing a play.”]
I believe the most valuable experiences I had at this conference were focused on Anti-Racism work. These three sessions, that amounted to 5 hours of examination (not nearly enough time for such an important issue), set forth a call to action and a recognition of the theatre’s responsibility in dismantling the systematic racism that exists in organizations, especially PWI’s (predominantly white institutions).
While it’s impossible to fully encapsulate the entirety of the conversation in a brief blog, various themes continued rising to the surface. The success in Anti-Racism work actually lies in the failures. Try, try, try + fail, fail, fail = SUCCESS. Also, organizations must lean into discomfort. Being in an uncomfortable space indicates growth, acknowledgement, and the possibility for change. Action is necessary, followed by more action. Take one step, then take another. Our guide posts should be: Transparency, Follow the Money, Relentless Inquiry, and (as stated before) Continual Action.
I was also able to attend some workshops on audience engagement, audience experience, and marketing in the digital age. All of which provided relevant considerations for the 21stCentury.
To say the least, this conference provided inspiration and important conversation that I think will serve our organization as we move forward. We want to work for a more representative theatre. A theatre that mirrors the community we serve, and tells a diverse range of stories. To share our collective experiences so that we can listen, learn, and relate. We want to make meaningful experiences and engender a culture that makes space and lifts up unheard voices.
I gathered from this conference that the conversations in the American Theatre are focused on the possibility of a better world through our work. You’ll have to continue holding us accountable…