BFF Blog Post: TCG Conference Reactions

TCG at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, OH

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 and Sara at the GE Chandelier on Playhouse Square.

Sommer and Sara on Playhouse Square

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.

Submissive Language: Pledge to recognize it and stop undermining yourself!

Pledge to Recognize submissive language and stop undermining yourself

I’ve seen THREE articles in the past week or two about language women use that automatically puts us in a position of submission. Here are links:

New York TimesWhy Women Apologize and Should Stop – This article explains that women’s apologies are usually passive aggressive attempts at making someone else feel sorry, but rarely has that effect and often creates an inverse of the situation due to the unclear communication of the problem.

Business InsiderGoogle and Apple alum says using this one word can damage your credibility – The use of “just” by women is our way of asking permission. Permission to be included, to ask a request, or to make an apology for butting in to begin with.

Howlround Journal: Women Directors: Language Worth Repeating – Women directors often follow a note with an immediate undermining question such as “is that ok?” or “Does that make sense?” We think we are giving an opportunity for clarification but we are really giving the actor/designer an option to discount the note.

A friend also pointed out she recently read an article about women nodding at all things, while men only nod when they agree. Hmm.

I have already stopped apologizing in emails for things that I have no real reason to apologize for. It was hard at first – I had to go back and read drafts a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t apologizing or excusing myself in some way inadvertently. And trust me, ladies, you will see you do it to yourself a whole lot more than you think. And in ways that aren’t necessarily “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Giving reasons for why this or that happened in a particular way is not needed, especially if they were out of your control and the client/partner/whoever has no idea that it didn’t happen according to plan anyway.

As for the “just” article – I know I am guilty of this one. In fact, I’ve even used it in a joking manner blatantly because I realize that its exactly how I would say something to apologize for saying it WHILE saying it. And I continue to use it anyway. “I just work here.” “I just wanted to ask..” “I’d just like to see the draft of this before I’m asked to sign it.” It creates a meek encounter and its no wonder there are few results with this language. And it sets up follow ups to be apologetic in nature as well. How much more submissive could I be?

The Howlround piece really struck a chord with me, since it is about women directors in theater specifically. Am I guilty of undermining the notes I give to actors? Probably. But I am not going to apologize about it. Instead, I will tell you that moving forward I am going to be more conscious of the direction and instructions I give verbally. I encourage other women to do the same. We cannot continually undermine ourselves with our language (verbal or not)! Not only does it send mixed messages to the people we should be communicating most clearly with but it gives them easy outs.

In fact, as we adjust to our more powerful communication stance, keep in mind that what you say is what you are. (And you always thought it was what you eat, ha!) Check this out: Words can Change Your Brain

Talk to me in the comments! Have you inadvertently been using submissive language? What words or phrases have you found to put you in a position of power instead of submission?

Top 3 reasons performing artists should be paid

Street performer waits for change

I used to be very involved in community theater. I loved it! It was awesome! I had so much fun twice a week…for three months of rehearsal. So you can imagine my surprise when I got to college and suddenly rehearsals occurred every night for three to four weeks straight! Suddenly, it was a job. Everyone was held responsible for being at rehearsal, on time, every night they were scheduled. It was an eye-opening experience for me. Going straight from a day of classes to a night of rehearsal, then repeating everyday for three weeks – it was hard to imagine anyone could ever choose that life permanently. Throw in the fact that you may not even be paid a decent wage – and I was O U T. That was when I decided acting was not for me! But now I am founding a company, and I want to make it very clear why I firmly believe actors (and all performing artists) should be paid for their work.

Reason #1: Performing artists do not typically hold standard “9-5” day jobs.

Since my initial induction into the world of fast-paced production schedules, I have experienced several rehearsal processes. My time spent shadowing rehearsals at Know Theatre of Cincinnati and The Carnegie in Covington, Kentucky was primarily at night, while rehearsals at Arena Stage typically began in the afternoon, and the ensemble at Cincy Shakes rehearses during the day and performs at night.  The biggest difference? The size of the organization. Arena can pay actors enough to make it a “day job.” (At least until the performances.) Shakes uses the ensemble model so they can have the same actors contracted throughout the season as full-time workers, freeing them up to rehearse during the day. Know Theatre and The Carnegie, on the other hand, have a pay scale that only supplements whatever other income the actor has. Many performing artists (in Cincinnati, at least, which has been the bulk of my experience) cobble together a variety of jobs to make rent: teaching, waiting on tables, receptionist work, and baking seem to be very common. Usually, these ventures are unreliable for a predictable income, so every paying performance job they can book is a sigh of relief – and gives them a little security cushion.

Reason #2: Performing artists have to hone their craft, even when they aren’t being paid.

Without consistent work, performing artists become…shall we say…rusty? This is especially true for musicians, as they must constantly practice to maintain the flexibility, strength, and agility to play their instrument. So – even if they don’t get a gig for a month – they still need to practice several hours a week to maintain the quality of their work for when they DO get a gig. I like Cincy Shakes’ ensemble model for this very reason – the acting company members are always honing their craft because it is their full-time job, and it shows onstage. The actors at Shakes always do a remarkable job. They could do an entire performance in paper sacks with no set design whatsoever and put on a captivating performance in which you wouldn’t even notice the bizarre costumes and lack of set.

Reason #3: Performing artists put their heart and soul on the line for every performance.

We, as humans, look for ways to relate to each other. No technology will be able to replace the feeling of having a shared, in-person experience with dozens of other people. If you don’t believe me, just think about the difference of seeing nudity in a film vs. seeing it onstage. Many people don’t think twice about seeing a film rated R with a nude scene – but if its a live performance, the same people balk. I’m certainly not advocating for or against nudity on stage but you as an audience member realize there is a certain level of intimacy involved when you know that person is really there, in front of you, living out a story. Often, movie stars don’t even know the final plot line of the film they are working on until they see the premiere. So much work happens after their job is done that stories can change drastically. This is not so with a live performer. Every night, the same story is lived out. And it is the performer’s job to tell it – without the safety nets of editing and dubbing to fix their mistakes.

When you go to a performance, the artists are providing you a service. You are being reminded of your humanity, challenged to acknowledge why you think, speak, and behave the way you do. You may be entertained during the process but if you talk to any performing artist, they will tell you that they perform to make people feel, not just to entertain. It is that human connection we buy tickets for – and is the reason we should pay our performing artists enough to focus on their art and continually challenge our expectations of the world.

Giving to an Indiegogo campaign

FbTC 1st Ever Production Indiegogo Campaign

As you likely know by now, I am in the middle of an Indiegogo campaign for Flashback Theater Co.’s 1st ever production! There have been a few questions about giving so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share a little more about how the campaign works. As always, though – if you have other questions please let me know! Comment, email or post to FbTC’s Facebook page – I will get back to you as quickly as I can.

Ways to give

There are two options to give your chosen amount. You can pick a “perk” which is a set amount and will get you some special access to behind-the-scenes content about the production. During the checkout process, you will have the option to add an additional amount to your perk amount so if you want to give a specific amount, you can pick a perk lower than that and add on the difference.  Alternatively, you can click the “Contribute Now” button and choose the amount you would like to give without receiving any perks.

Does sharing on Facebook or Twitter really help?

YES! It is especially important for you to share after you’ve contributed so that the people you share it with see that you value the campaign enough to give to it. Would you buy something from someone if they hadn’t bought one themselves? Probably not – and the same goes for donating.

Fees

Because FbTC is a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, we do not lose any fees to Indiegogo. (YAY!) However, Fractured Atlas does take a 7% fee for processing the donation – which includes the credit card fees, which are typically in the 2-3% range. (If we were not a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, Indiegogo would take a similar percentage.)

Where does the raised money go?

Fractured Atlas holds all funds raised for us, until we need to make a purchase (or be reimbursed for one.)

logoFlashback Theater Co is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of Flashback Theater Co must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.


 

If you have other questions, email them to me at sommer@flashbacktheaterco.org, or post in the comments below!

 

My Vision

So you’ve heard the what and the why. Now I’d like to tell you how.

The company I am founding will begin with a small festival and a large amount of passion. It is my intent to give you, the audience, the theatrical experience described in my last post of this series, binding us together as a community. I want to tell stories that are truthful and insightful, while staying true to our identity as the Lake Cumberland region.

Flashback Theater Co. MissionYou may be wondering why “Co.” and not “Company”. This theater will be more than just a company. It will be Collaborative. It will be a Community, a Cooperative, a Conversation.

Let’s give people in our community the chance to choose theater as a profession in the long-term, without the fear of never having something to eat. Let’s get friends and neighbors excited about seeing live theater on a regular basis. Let’s stimulate conversations and build our community’s relationships. I hope you are as excited about this as I am, because without you it can’t be done.

Today marks the start of our crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo for our first ever production, coming in February 2015. If you are excited about having a theater company in Somerset, Kentucky, please visit the Indiegogo campaign page to learn more about how you can help  Flashback Theater Co. reach its goal of raising $3,500 in three weeks.

 


In case you missed it:

Part I: Getting there – how I prepared to start a theater company
Part II: Why a theater company?

 

Aside

My crazy late night idea

Have you ever woken up with an idea that you can’t get out of your head? It happened to me at 1 am this morning.

A crazy idea for a flash play festival

It has been my intention to create a production for FbTC in the spring (that’s Flashback Theater Co. for those of you who haven’t been paying attention the past couple of weeks). However, I have been so encouraged by everyone who has shown their support on Facebook that I cannot contain myself any longer! I want to meet everyone who has made the effort to follow the company’s page – what better way than through creating theater together?

Here’s the idea: a 10 minute play festival, put together in just one and a half hours! I have no idea if it will work or not but I think it will be so much fun to try. If you want to take part, check out the Facebook event page here.

Each play will get a director and actors by luck of the draw when you arrive. Rehearsal time of one hour will begin shortly afterwards – when time is up we will watch everyone’s play. Obviously, no one is going to memorize a script in that amount of time, and this isn’t about getting a flawless piece onstage so I am sure everyone will have their script in hand or nearby. It is designed to give you the excuse to take chances and make strong choices because if it flops, well – everyone knows it was rehearsed in only an hour!

This is crazy enough it just might work!


For those of you who have been following the series about why I started FbTC: it will continue soon. This idea was so immediate that I wanted to get it out there first. So don’t worry, you’ll get Part III soon.

 

Why a theater company?

In the last post, I chronicled (as briefly as I could) what led to me starting a theater company in Somerset. Now I want to tell you why.

Theater is inspirational. Onstage, you can be anything and do anything. The exhilaration of a shared experience binds you to friends, family, and community.

woods and lake

Telling a story in theater is more than just words. It is lights, costumes, sets, sounds, actions, emotions, and so much more. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In theater, you must rely on everyone else, even the audience. And when something goes wrong – which it will – you must continue to trust that everyone is working together to make it right.

Theater captures our mindset and history in a unique way. It can provide an insight into our subconsciousness. If you have ever seen great theater, you understand what I mean. If you have not, then all I can tell you is: it is a breathtaking and awe-inspiring experience. And once you have that experience, you will go back over and over, hoping for a repeat. Not every production attains it, but every production aims for it.

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to see Amazing Grace in Chicago before it goes to Broadway. It was such a beautiful and profound piece of theater, and perfectly exemplifies what I am trying to articulate in this post. I will write more about that later – it was a wonderful reminder of exactly what I am saying in this post.

Everything I describe above was how I felt from a young age. It is not until now that I even try to put it into words and still it is such an experiential process that I do not do it justice. I only attempt it now to impart some understanding of what I want to give to my hometown.

Theater-goers in Somerset have to travel at least 2 hours to see professional level theater. There is only one LORT theater in Kentucky: Actors Theatre of Louisville. Knoxville’s Clarence Brown Theatre is perhaps the next closest. My vision is for Somerset to become the home of Kentucky’s next regional theater company. 


This is Part 2 of 3 in a series about why I am founding a theater company. Come back next week for Part 3: My Vision!

Read Part 1

Visit Flashback Theater Co.’s website