July 2010 Field Letter
Written on June 28, 2009
This year’s TCG National Conference in Chicago was a success on so many levels and I want to thank our local host committee, our board, the National Council for the American Theatre and the TCG staff, as well as our Conference funders for supporting us there. We had record attendance this year. With strong programming and Chicago as a setting, we were able to offer an invaluable experience for our attendees. Chicago is unique for the relationship it holds with its arts community that is clearly valued as necessary and crucial to the fabric of the city. This fact was underscored in the plenary session with Mayor Daley and in a luncheon with the critics Chris Jones and Richard Christiansen, who talked reverently about the ground-up evolution of the Chicago theatre scene and the nuances of its ecology.
Against the backdrop of this great arts town, our meetings proceeded apace. We will be reporting on the sessions in a number of ways in the coming months. But as I reflect on those days together, a few things became apparent to me:
• We are at a watershed moment in the history of our field. It is possible today for the youngest practitioners to sit and talk with some of the people who were there at the dawn of the resident theatre movement. An exquisite continuum exists and is visible at our convenings at this moment in time.
• The next generation of leaders is building an articulate and vibrant voice in the TCG landscape. We heard this in meetings of the young leaders of color, in sessions with the New Generations program grantees and in the TCG/American Express Leadership Boot Camp, a program where established and emerging leaders came together to investigate leadership practices. We heard it in the vocal and passionate contributions of members of teen councils in attendance. The new generation of leaders is not standing by at the fringe—but is beginning to define the future of our field. (There’s a Facebook group dedicated to this that you can join: New Landscape for American Theatre.)
• Our community continues to go global. Present at the Conference were theatre practitioners from 16 countries. We were able to advance exchange and dialogue with the artists of these lands and offer a glimpse into our national conversation. Our theatre movement is becoming a global movement and TCG is a connecting place for that transformation.
• Financial and organizational issues are ever present and we learn from each other in talking and sharing information about fundraising, audience development, board relations and advocacy. Some of the conversations are those familiar old conversations that we’ve been having for years. Some are new. Regardless of which it is, this type of exchange is necessary to propel the health and well being of individual organizations and the field.
• And at the end of the day, the ART matters and ideas matter and that is where we get our juice. But as much as we crave ideas, the field is motivated, not just by the talking, but also by the walking. This was apparent in our series of “Manifestos” on four topic areas: race and gender, artists and artistry, the arts learning continuum and creative ecology. The conversations were honest, direct, cross generational and inclined towards momentum. Ideas are important, action is crucial.
• And on a practical note, at the TCG/American Express Leadership Boot Camp, we learned one of my favorite and easily implemented takeaways. It was about goal setting and achievement: You have a 20% chance of reaching a goal simply by having the goal, it rises to 40% if you write it down, it goes to 60% if you tell someone and 80% if you have a friend or “accountability” partner who checks in with you about your progress. This was a good piece of guidance in leaving a Conference titled, Ideas into Action.
A service organization such as TCG exists for the harnessing and redistribution of knowledge, for its networking capacity and for the financial efficiencies that can be gained by centralizing the primary research, advocacy and professional development requirements of the field. TCG takes on this challenge, in part, as a convener. Our Conference saw record numbers of attendees during a period that has been rocked by an unsteady economy, and at a time, when the internet and social networking make it possible for theatre practitioners to find information and communicate with each other without ever leaving home. People want to be at the party. Our robust and wildly interconnected—and ever evolving—community can be assembled in this way, in part, because of TCG’s presence and stewardship over the decades. The theatre ecosystem has evolved, taking on new artistic dimensions and responding to new community needs. A new generation of practitioners is on the scene and they are questioning systems, structures and inclusion. Long-time practitioners are also at the table investigating systems, structures and inclusion. All the while, TCG is a steady presence—chronicling events through American Theatre, building a legacy of great writers through the book program, partnering with foundations to supply funding for the professional development of young practitioners, advocating at the federal level for NEA funding and an array of policies that affect us, conducting national research that benchmarks our unique situation, convening people at meetings of all kinds and finally, just listening.
Arthur Miller once said he couldn’t imagine having time for a theatre that didn’t want to change the world. In reality, some theatres change the world on purpose and some change it by accident. But somehow as a field, the net effect has been a real and important impact in the lives of our communities and the world. And it’s always nice to come together and celebrate that!
We will continue the big conversation next year, as we honor TCG’s 50th Anniversary! Our National Conference will be in Los Angeles, June 16-18. Mark the dates!
Until next month, all the best,
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