Last month I attended the TCG 2015 conference with Sara (my arts admin grad school sister). I am still processing a lot of the information from those (really really jam-packed) days, but I loved it and wanted to share it with you. This was also the first time in almost a year Sara and I got to be in the same city so we decided to do a BFF blog post in honor of the occasion. We came up with some questions related to the conference and answered them independently. This is our way of comparing notes after having some time to think everything over.
Sara Kissinger is the Development Operations and Membership Coordinator at Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
What was your favorite conference topic?
SARA: I was surprised to find that a lunch salon entitled “How Theater Makers Manage Family Life” was one of the most enlightening sessions I attended. We in the performing arts are givers – really. We give and give, in order to make others feel and react and reflect. We aren’t very good at taking – taking our lunch breaks, taking time off, taking care of ourselves. The discussion was a tapestry of flex time, parental responsibilities, family care, and overall wellness which illuminated a real need for attention to these areas of our lives. Be well, arts friends.
SOMMER: Burnout to Babies was probably the most engaging topic for me. Part of it is just coming out of grad school and seeing my peers struggle a lot with wanting to further their careers but also build a family. Our program was small but we had several different family circumstances, from already married with almost grown children to planning a wedding to having a baby during or immediately after the program…to single or in various levels of dating relationships.
Despite a lot of discussion in our grad program about career planning, how to manage a family within our career plans was never the focus. It was very much about which jobs to look for post-graduation, how to interview, how to negotiate salary. So actually discussing how to manage working from home and the idea of getting flex time for working late events gave me something to chew on. Those are actual strategies that I can use in the future as a manager to make sure employees are not forced to choose between working in theater and having a real life outside of it.
And there is life outside of working at a theater. There has to be, because if there isn’t how do we create relevant theater for our communities?
Why did you attend the conference?
SARA: Sommer brought the TCG conference to my attention, and I thought, “hey, that might be fun.” Best friends, theater nerds, Cleveland – what’s not to love? But when I started to think about what I might write in a quick essay to make my case for volunteering, it occurred to me that it was bigger than that. My inner philosopher and arts advocate wondered what I could learn from a few days of theater-world immersion that I could bring back to share with the classical music section of the arts sphere. Certainly there were things the disciplines could learn from each other, right? And that’s how an arts administrator currently fighting the good fight for classical music ended up at a fabulous theater conference.
SOMMER: Mostly, I miss theater people. They are my people. Connecting back into the theater community helps me to recharge my excitement for the work I do – because I see other people are excited for the work I do. Everyone that asked about my company gave me well-wishes and was intrigued by the mission. Not to say that is the only reason I attended, because my initial reason was to make sure I am keeping up with the current trends and topics relevant to other theaters, but that inclusion will certainly be the reason I go back.
What do you look forward to at future conferences?
SARA: One thing theater does especially well is bring to light issues of race, equality, and accessibility in ways that people feel safer starting to discuss them and better equipped to start to take action. I’d love to see more of this in ways that other performance art sectors can apply – I’m calling you out, classical music world. Dance has been doing an okay job recently (merde, Misty!), but let’s see more cross-disciplinary collaboration around this. Let’s get together. One of my favorite quotes from the entire conferences was this gem from Rhodessa Jones: “Politics don’t work. Religion is a bit too eclectic. But art… Art could be the parachute that carries us all.”
SOMMER: Assuming I get to return, I really look forward to continuing conversations and delving deeper into topics that are just beginning to be accepted as appropriate. Theater has always been at the forefront of change in our culture through exploration and discussion, and it is important to me to be a part of that discussion through my work at Flashback Theater Co.
What themes/trends did you take notice of because of the conference?
SOMMER: First, the trend of recognizing our culture’s tendency to excuse racism for some but not all. Second, there was an underlying theme of recognizing our individual privileges and looking for ways to use them to help those without the same privileges. (This is an overwhelming topic so I will save my expansion for another post.)
What struck you the most about the conference culture at TCG (as opposed to other conferences/networking events)?
SOMMER: It was surprising to me how easy it was to connect with people at TCG. It was so easy to introduce myself and all too often budding conversations were cut short by the next session beginning. Perhaps that is the result of finally being at a conference where I feel like I fit in. And TCG’s affinity groups helped that a lot. Having the opportunity to meet with other managing directors of small theaters was especially great. It was one of those “Finally! Someone gets it!” moments that I wanted to hold onto for as long as possible.