Tuesday, April 13, 2010

USITT 2010 Afterthoughts

So even though it's been a couple weeks since the 50th United States Institute of Theatre Technology Conference wrapped up in Kansas City, I'm still going to take a bit to review my time there.

First impressions: Still great, still a lot of fun, just as much as I remember it being the year before. The section of the conference expo devoted to design submissions seemed particularly robust this year, with some great retrospectives on some noted designer's bodies of work, as well as some fun exhibits of theatre technology throughout the years.

The show floor had all the usual exhibitors, along with some new faces. A few trends I noticed this year: I may be totally off-base with this, but there seemed to be more exhibitors selling modular seating and stage flooring units. I connected this with one of the USITT sessions specifically dealing with creating modular performance spaces. I'm spinning out this hypothesis probably further than it should actually go, but I'd still place a solid bet that as we continue to weather this financial downturn, and capital investments dry up, more theatre companies and performing arts venues are going to be looking for ways to do more with the spaces they already have. It's a small silver lining to a very dark cloud, but the economic crisis could spawn significant innovation (in addition to the far less fortunate budget cut-backs, lay-offs, and company closings.) New LED instruments continue to hit the market. I'm really excited about the possibilities of these new instruments, I just wish the price point wasn't such high-hanging fruit for most smaller companies. Of course, these days, any new equipment at all can qualify as 'high-hanging fruit'...

Interestingly enough, the tech-related sessions seemed a little anemic this year. On the flip side, there were more sessions related to topics like marketing, audience-building, making your budget stretch, economic strategies for weathering the downturn, etc. Not too surprising, really. My feelings about these sorts of sessions (at least the ones I attended, which was most) were that there were a few truly good ideas scattered amongst what amounted to some very basic discussions. Those ideas (most of them centering around how to creatively embrace new information technology instead of fighting or ignoring it) were still completely worth hanging around for.

There was also the return of the 'Healthy Technician' session, as well as a new session suggested last year that dealt with diagnosing and dealing with psychological burnout. I'm very glad to see the evolving discussion of how theatre professionals can lead healthy, happy personal lives while still maintaining the quality of their work. It's a topic that is too easily ignored, and I think there's a very insidious assumption that pervades the industry that wanting to live healthy, not overwork yourself, do things like live in one place more than a few months at a time, raise a family, etc., means that your drive and dedication is somehow lacking. Or worse, that there's assumed choice between having either these things or success in your field. This is not a unique concern to the theatre industry, but it is still particularly notable. I see signs of change, and it's about time.

If USITT is any indication, the theatre industry is still slowly but steadily embracing the 'Green Movement'. There were not one but two sessions purely devoted to improving the environmental sustainability of theatre companies. And I saw several booths on the show floor that prominently displayed the 'green-ness' of their products. First blush, it's great that environmentalism is finally starting to become mainstream in the industry. The downside is that, like in any other part of the environmentalist movement, you have to wade through a sea of misfires and misinformation to get to the hard data and innovative ideas. Theatre has the same vulnerability to green-washing as any other industry. But that's just a natural step in it's evolution. Everything has to start somewhere.

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