Structures, Signals, Noise: The New Conference 2.0

by August Schulenburg

in National Conference

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You know the hype: the internet is the biggest thing to happen to communication since the printing press! Ah, the cognitive surplus! Praise the Facebook revolutions! Kickstarter and crowdsourcing and Pinterest, oh my!

Here’s the thing: I believe in all that and then some. The revolution has been and will be tweeted. But when you receive your fifth Kickstarter appeal in as many days; when you believe LinkedIn is an evil plot to devour your inbox; when you can’t recognize half of your Facebook friends, you may begin wonder…where is the signal in all this noise?

Worse, after you’ve been blogging and tweeting for awhile, conversations that seemed fresh and urgent begin to sound eerily familiar. Here comes the conversation about gender equality again! Then actor vs. institution, then diversity, then funding woes, then new audiences, then too many classics vs. not enough classics, and on and on and yes: these conversations are essential. They have raised awareness in a significant way, and contributed to real change.

But is it enough?
In a field where so many of us preach inclusive values, why are we still so far from true equality?
In a field with shining examples of innovative community engagement, why are we still talking about the struggle for new audiences?
In a field of plenty, why do we so often speak of scarcity?

The answer may live in the words we use. “The Field”, that mysterious, mythic entity that is the indefinable sum of us: is the best metaphor really a static stretch of land with homogenous crops? Language is a structure through which thought flows, and that structure shapes how we think, and what we believe is possible.

Model the Movement: that’s the name of TCG’s 2012 National Conference beginning in earnest today. The word movement is rich in potential meaning, and its structure allows for a different kind of thinking. Any movement – from the patterns of birds to the parts of a symphony – implies a sustained conversation, an awareness of the whole, and a mutual urge towards progress. E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. I believe we can achieve that mutual progress without sacrificing the unique motions that make our field worth moving. A movement is not a cult; it thrives on difference.

What we need is a structure that sustains that way of thinking, not just ideologically, but logistically, practically, systemically. The digital revolution provides the tools, but how can we hear the signal through the noise?

Enter Conference 2.0. In the past, we have used this platform as a conference tool, for attendees to create profiles, build their schedules, and communicate with each other. All of that is still possible, and is already happening.

But, in a happy coincidence, our vendor was thinking around the same time we were about developing a year-round Conference community. While still in beta version, this new and improved Conference 2.0 offers a robust functionality for year-round conversations and resource and model sharing. In short, it could be the structure we need to transform our field into a movement for the digital age.

What if we could build:

  • A Facebook just for theatre people?
  • A theatre-centric wiki?
  • A collection of how-tos, from the best practices of budgeting to old tricks of costuming to breakthroughs in multi-media?
  • Private affinity groups so you can ask the tough questions and have the sensitive conversations with your peers all year long?
  • Public groups rallying around a goal – like gender equality in 2020 – with all members of the group crowdsourcing ideas and sharing their progress?
  • A means to share the latest models, then adapt them to local conditions, all in one place?
  • A toolkit for theatre people at various stages of their careers, updated by those theatre people as things change?

Believe it or not, the capacity to do all those things and more exists in Conference 2.0. Even better, we can do all those things in the same place. In the sea of noise that is the World Wide Web, here is a signal coming through, loud and clear. Here is a structure to achieve real, measurable, lasting change.

Now, anytime someone comes selling utopia, you should be suspicious, and perhaps you’re suspicious now. That’s as it should be. Bring your suspicion along with your talent, intelligence and as much openness and hope as you can muster to Conference 2.0. Start your own Group, join another, start a discussion, post a valuable resource, message a fellow attendee: the only rule is only connect.

I’ll be discussing Conference 2.0 today at 12noon, but don’t hesitate to email me at gschulenburg@tcg.org with any questions at any time. Because this is still in beta testing, we’re focusing our access and efforts on Conference Attendees and Member Theatre Staff, but if you’re interested in participating, contact me. I believe our movement needs this to work, but it will only do so if people want it to work, and put in the time until sharing ideas, resources and models this way becomes second nature.

So please, help us Model the Movement.


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.