USITT 2015 broke all previous attendance records, attracting nearly 5,500 people to Cincinnati’s Duke Energy Center last week for the backstage industry’s biggest annual event. Over 280 exhibitors staffed booths with the latest entertainment products for the largest Stage Expo ever – and 170-plus have already signed on for USITT 2016 in Salt Lake City, according to organizers.
“So many people told us this was their best Conference experience ever,” says USITT Executive Director David Grindle. “We are very proud to be known for a show that shines for its quality, excitement, and customer service.”
USITT 2015 also focused on diversity, with Keynote Speaker Terrence Spivey of Karamu House opening the 55th USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo calling for more diversity in technical theatre and praising USITT and TCG for recruiting and mentoring technical theatre students of color. During the show, two diversity sessions, USITT’s People of Color Networking Project and the Queer Nation Roundtable, outgrew their meeting rooms and had to move to larger spaces.
The popular Distinguished Achievers in Conversation drew a huge crowd Friday, March 20, to see the five 2015 USITT Distinguished Achievement Award winners take the stage to talk about their work. This year’s group featured costume designer Jane Greenwood, scene designer Douglas W. Schmidt, projection designer Wendall Harrington, automation designer and tech director Loren Schreiber, and TCG Executive Director Teresa Eyring.
USITT and the Wally Russell Foundation added a surprise guest by honouring another star, lighting designer Ken Billington, with the first Wally Russell Mentor Award, and asking him to join his fellow artists onstage. Moderator Kevin Rigdon, chair of USITT’s Awards & Resolutions Committee, noted that those onstage “collectively have designed over 300 shows on Broadway.”
Their spirited interaction sparked laughter and standing ovations. Asked, “When you get in a rut, how do you reignite yourself?” Jane Greenwood replied, “Don’t get in a rut.” Wendall Harrington advised “Walking away so you can walk back” with a fresh idea. Teresa Eyring said the best advice she ever got was, “Focus is your friend … which is difficult today because there are so many distractions, like that appendage in your hand called a smartphone.”
For those who missed this or other USITT 2015 sessions, audio recordings (and some video) will be available for download at www.usitt.org.