A Reflection on Conference Week from Home

April 3, 2020

By: David Grindle, USITT Executive Director

It's Monday, March 30. I’m sitting at my “home office,” or as we call it, the dining table and pondering what should have been. I subconsciously dressed today as I would have dressed.  Khaki pants and a USITT red polo. I should be going to meetings with hotels and convention center staff to prepare for the 60th Annual Conference & Stage Expo. I should be consuming massive amounts of convention center coffee. Instead, I’m consuming massive amounts of local store brand coffee (they taste the same, but this one is realistically priced).

Like many of you, the need to protect one another from this virus has necessitated cancelling the week where we catch up with colleagues, make new connections, and learn new things. Some of you may not know that I was a member of USITT prior to becoming Executive Director. I know the value the conference brings to someone who is alone in their discipline where they live. They don’t have colleagues that do what they do in their town. Conference week is key to renewal.

As staff, this cornerstone event of the Institute is our payoff too. We see the excitement of first-time attendees. The amazement on the faces of people who haven’t been to a conference in years and weren’t expecting what we have. The joy on the faces of people who have worked, some for more than two years, on this event coming to fruition. These are the things that make the conference for staff members. And we aren’t getting that this time around.

The loss of these “payoffs” have made me sad, angry, and irritable at times. I am not naïve enough to think I’m alone in this. In fact, it is quite selfish of me to think these things when so many in our industry are without work because our world revolves around bringing groups of people together. In a time when we can’t do that, for our safety, how does USITT respond? How do we rise to the challenge rather than wallow in our misfortune?

We try to be that place where people can continue to come together and learn. We try to be a resource for people in difficult times.  We set up pages to collect information on how people can help one another in this time. We bring the learning, vendors, and products online so that people can find some way to connect and learn. To hold to the industry and people that have been so vital to our psyche.

Never before has the Institute been challenged like this. We owe a debt of thanks to our past leaders who have helped prepare us to be financially stable enough to weather this situation. And in that weathering we must focus now, more than ever, on the people we serve. We must be that place where people can gather in some form and remain connected. Where we can share our shows that will never make it to the stage. Where we can connect resources to navigate uncertain finances. And where we can find the payoff that the conference gave us through knowing that we as a community were able to remain connected through it to provide encouragement and support in a myriad of ways.

I hope you are able to use our education resources, social media connections, and other sources to get you through the distancing.  Now more than ever we need to remember that we need physical distancing and social connection. Reach out to the people you were looking forward to seeing in Houston. If you know a first-time attendee, take the time to introduce them to someone via email or a social platform. Because we aren’t in proximity doesn’t mean we can’t be together.

March 2021 will bring a great physical reunion. Let’s use the next 11 months to make and build connections that we celebrate face to face in Columbus, Ohio.

Take care, stay safe, and care for those who are alone and ill in this time. It is who we are and one of the many reasons our organization starts with US.