Model the Movement: How A Theme Begins

by August Schulenburg

in National Conference

Post image for Model the Movement: How A Theme Begins

I remember this: we were not in the TCG office when the lightning began to strike in our 2012 National Conference brainstorm.

I don’t remember why – it could have been that all of the meeting rooms were full, or perhaps one of us had simply forgotten to eat until the stomach rumblings could not be denied. But whatever the reason, we didn’t meet in one of our usual meeting rooms, and that may have made all the difference.

Let me back up a little – I’m here to shed a little light on how TCG arrived at our 2012 National Conference theme, Model the Movement. Of course, I’m doing this in part because I want you to register for what I hope will be an extraordinary experience while the early bird discount is still catching worms (now extended through April 13th!)

I also intend to fill in the broad strokes of what we mean by “Transforming a field into a movement, one new model at a time,”  and in the weeks to come we’ll share examples of working models and thoughts on what the resident theatre movement meant and could mean from some theatre founders. We’ll also explore our Conference’s TRACKS and TRAITS and the role they’ll play at the Conference.

But for now, picture us hungry and not in our usual habitat. Leading the Conversation is Dafina McMillan,  Director of Communications and Conferences, along with Ruth Eglsaer, Associate Director of Conferences*. We’re in the downstairs lobby at 520 8th Avenue in New York City, and the place is buzzing with actors coming and going to the various rehearsal and audition spaces in our building.

The three of us are tasked with coming up with The Idea:  a theme and conceptual framework to bring to Teresa Eyring and Kevin Moore, our Executive and Managing Directors, respectively. Here’s what we know:

  • Our last conference was our best attended, and the theme of What If…? received a great deal of positive feedback. How can we build on that success?
  • How can we provide something practical – actionable strategies and tactics that provide tangible support to our Member Theatres?
  • How can we do that while also remembering that people come to the Conference to be energized, renewed and reminded that we are all a part of something larger than ourselves? I remember how my theatre soul caught fire last Conference during Todd London’s speech, Past as Prologue: Dreams of an Ideal Theatre – how can we provide that spark again?
  • We kicked off our 50th Anniversary last year in Los Angeles, and our Conference in Boston will bring this pivotal year to a close – how can we seize this singular moment and make a lasting, positive change to how our field comes together?

Outside of our comfort zone (and perhaps buzzing from finally having eaten something), we bat around various possibilities until An Idea (if not The Idea) begins to take shape: a year-round conference.

We realize that while many fruitful connections take root at our conferences, they often go unheralded to the field at large. We may leave the conferences boiling over with purpose, but soon the day-to-day realities of running a theatre (or working at a service organization) lower the heat on our ideas until the water turns cold. A year-round conference – if it were easy and valuable for our Member Theatres to use – could keep some steam in our engines.

We remind ourselves that in spite of the dire prognostications (and very real challenges) for our field, there are so many things that are going well: models of how to make art, run organizations and connect with communities that are already making a difference now.

How can we leverage that intellectual capital to achieve the kind of idea momentum that leads to virtuous cycles of exponential change?

We can do it by changing the system of how we share, measure and adapt what works.

And by doing so, we can transform our theatre field into a movement for the digital age.

An online platform to support this kind of exchange was something we’d experimented with in past conferences with Conference 2.0. What if  we integrated this platform into our year-round activities, so that when we met at our National Conferences and Fall Forums, we could hit the ground running and leave with a sustaining wind at our backs?

Now we had a conceptual framework, but what to call it? Surely all of you reading this post now have experienced what comes next – that electric moment when the field is strewn with ideas flashing their tails like fireflies, and it’s beautiful but you don’t know where to look, and then…

…then, they all flash together in a single rhythm.

Surely you’ve felt this – that current in the air when the right idea descends into the room and makes the air crackle – the moment that could not have sprung from anything less than the sum of your three minds sparking against each other?

Model the Movement. A complex, messy, emotional web of ideas captured in three simple words, and oh, we were happy then, but would the rest of the staff and board connect with it?

Thankfully, yes: Teresa, Kevin and our Board responded positively (and with many insightful comments that strengthened the overall narrative), and here we are, combing through breakout proposals and watching the registrations rise.

There is much more to share with you about what we hope to accomplish with your help in this Conference and beyond, but for now, we wanted to share with you that electric epiphany that set the whole thing in motion. May that electricity be catching, and stay tuned for much more about all of this. (And, oh yeah, why not register now?)

August Schulenburg is the Associate Director of Communications at TCG. He is also the Artistic Director of Flux Theatre Ensemble, winner of the 2011 Caffe Cino Fellowship Award. He is a playwright whose produced plays include Riding the Bull, Carrin Beginning, The Lesser Seductions of History, Dream Walker, Rue, Jacob’s House and Other Bodies. He is also a director (most recently Ellen McLaughlin’s Ajax in Iraq) and actor (the recent film, The Golden Scallop). Learn more here.

*Post-script: Ruth Eglsaer has since left the position of Associate Director of Conferences, and though we miss her terribly, her spirit is very much present in the theme of Model the Movement, and so attention must be paid.