Organizational meetings for the Upstate New York Regional Section and the International Committee, a Reception for first time conference attendees, and a session where I learned (or attempted to learn) more types of knots than I knew even existed are just the highlights of what I have seen at the conference thus far. However, in my quest to research new, innovative, and community-changing theatre, the following sessions really pertained to that theme.

Producing at a Temporary or Non-Traditional Event Site

Two producers detailed their forays off the beaten path in the session “Producing at a Temporary or Non-Traditional Even Site.” Andrew Cady, who has also been general manager of Buffalo’s own Studio Arena Theatre, shared his experience of bringing the Sand Diego Symphony Orchestra into the jungles of Mexico to play on the ruins of Chichen Itza. As fate would have it, their concert fell on Columbus Day, which unbeknownst to the event organizers, is a day celebrated by the Mayans as “the day of indigenous resistance,” where thousands of Mayans from the surrounding region descend upon the ruins and have religious ceremonies amongst the ancient rocks. However, despite humidity wreaking havoc on the wind players’ reeds, having no canopy to shelter the orchestra from the threatening rain, and a very elusive town mayor, Mr. Cady managed to overcome the challenges of this space deep in the wild to have a very successful event.

The other project, the Woyzeck Project at the University of Minnesota, was produced in a condemned building on campus, presenting its own set of challenges. She managed to coordinate an entire production utilizing many spaces both inside and outside of the building with three directors, all with a budget of less than $5000. One unexpected result of the project was that now, everyone is clamoring to do a project in this previously ignored building.

Theatres as Catalyst for City Revival

This session, presented by the architecture commission of USITT, featured three case studies of theatres spurring economic development in communities, a topic Buffalo might benefit from paying attention to. According to one presenter, the arts are growing, despite the down turning economy, and the non-profit theatre industry alone was worth $166.2 billion in 2005. “Threshold anxiety,” in his opinion, is what is preventing many of our theatre buildings from becoming the performing arts centers of the future, which embrace and engage their communities.

In order for a next generation performing arts center to remain pertinent and vital to a community for as long as possible, it must be able to fulfill six requirements:
1. Does it educate?
2. Does is foster innovation?
3. Is it an agent or catalyst for change?
4. Is it a showcase?
5. Can it host the traditional performing arts?
6. Does it incubate new experiences for the community?

One of the cases presented, the Skylight Opera Theatre in Milwaukee, fulfills all of these guidelines, as well as addressing the issue of threshold anxiety. The architect behind the project, Scott Georgeson, stressed that they are a “jeans and T-shirt kind of place,” and mentioned that the original name of the company was the “Comic Opera Theatre.” The company performs operas in English, not Italian, and the fresco of the 18th century Italian style theatre features whimsical portraits of supporters of the theatre as well as Milwaukee landmarks. In other words, for a theatre to be successful, especially in an area where the object is to draw people from outside of its immediate surroundings, people cannot be intimidated by it.