My USITT Story: Cary Gillett & Jay Sheehan

July 17, 2020

*Note that this story is being submitted by Cary Gillett but is co-authored with USITT member Jay Sheehan.

“Let’s just go down there and ask someone. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
And with those words our amazing journey began. A journey about discovering more about USITT and the relationships we have because of it. A journey of risk. A journey of perseverance. A journey of joy. A journey about friendship and its importance in life.

We met first at the USITT Conference in Milwaukee, WI in 2013. We were both starting out as mentors in the Stage Management Mentor Project. Both of us were on the faculty at major universities, and both of us were being asked to teach Production Management for the first time. We both struggled a bit at first, as the only textbook remotely close to production management was a very old book based on the systems in England. It did not serve us well at all. We ended up teaching with research we found in books on leadership, and management techniques. The rest we made up as we went. Over the course of the next year we would get together with our friends and colleagues and commiserate over the lack of a textbook on production management. Usually the evening ended in “oh is what it is” and we would move forward, into another semester without a textbook.

It was in 2014 that our lives would be changed forever. During the conference in Fort Worth, TX, we found ourselves, once again, in that familiar place of lamenting about the lack of a textbook. No doubt frustrated by our ongoing saga (and probably tired of the topic) our colleague and dear friend Deb Acquavella, said...” would guys please quit complaining and just write the book yourselves?” At that moment our friend Deb put an idea in our minds that ignited in both of us. We looked at each other and said...” yeah...we should.” And that was it. We left each other’s company without saying another word about it.

We attended the same session later that same day on relationship building presented by the Management Commission. We sat next to each other and over the course of the session both of us were taking copious notes. When the session was over, we looked at each other and commented on how many notes we had been taking. Then we looked at what the other person had written. They were not notes on the session. We had each simultaneously been writing the table of contents for the book. That settled it. We had to take the next step. But how does one get a publishing deal?

We decided to take advantage of the fact that we were at the conference and the expo floor was filled with book publishers. “Let’s just go down there and ask someone. We’ve got nothing to lose.” We stopped at the Routledge/Focal Press booth, located conveniently by the entrance of the expo floor. We walked up to the person behind the counter and said, “we have an idea for a book.” She smiled politely and said that if we wanted to leave our cards then someone would be in contact with us. After the cards had been handed over, we walked out of the expo floor feeling giddy and a little bit wild, like two kids who has just skipped school. “Did we just do that?” Expecting nothing to come of it, but proud of ourselves for trying, we rejoined the conference and parted ways a few days later.

Several weeks would pass and we basically forgot about the encounter at the Expo booth in Ft Worth.
Then out of the blue we found ourselves as the recipients of an email from Stacey Walker, the New Acquisitions Editor for Routledge Press. Believe it or not, it was by sheer luck that Stacey was the woman that we handed our card to that day. It seems that she was interested in talking more about our idea, but she just didn't have time that day in the booth. That email came around the beginning of April and by July we had signed a contract. We were going to be the authors of the first textbook in America on the subject of production management! The book published in 2016 and in 2018 at the USITT conference in St. Louis we participated in the member book signing event.

We have so many people to thank at USITT. If it were not for the support and encouragement of our friends and colleagues, this book would not have been written. The bottom line is that we had an idea, and we took a chance...the ever so slight chance that someone in that booth that day would actually be excited to meet us! We were willing to take a risk, we had nothing to lose….