To me the big advantage of IPAY is having the opportunity to see and gain better understanding of what others are working on. In three days you see tons of shows, walk around the exhibit hall seeing how touring shows are booked and meet theatre professionals from around the globe. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating. Much of my work focuses on the educational side of theatre with even my artistic work having some educational slant to it. Being a Jim Rye fellow at IPAY allowed me the opportunity to see the other side of theatre, to think about the business of TYA and to better understand how theatre functioned abroad. Also I got to meet my professional crush and that’s pretty much been the highlight of 2012 for me thus far. Below are a few anecdotes that I feel sum up what I gained from IPAY.
The Business of Theatre
At the risk of sounding uninformed I will admit that before attending IPAY I never much thought about the business of theatre. Don’t get me wrong- I knew that ticket sales are necessary to fund productions and classes need a minimum enrollment to make it financially worth holding them. I understood the basic economics but never gave much thought to what goes into selling a touring show. Attending IPAY one can’t walk around the exhibit hall without thinking about the economics of theatre. I had the opportunity to shadow Rebecca Podsednik in the exhibit hall this year. Traditionally her role at IPAY had been selling in the booth for the Kennedy Center’s Touring productions, but with budget cuts suspending the Kennedy Center Family Tours, this year Rebecca was looking for shows to present. Rebecca shared some interesting insights on what it was to buy and sell theatre. It was enlightening to listen to Rebecca talk about shows she personally loved, but that the Kennedy Center wouldn’t book. As I listened to Rebecca and other presenters they talked about shows that were too small or too big for their theatres, designed for older or younger audiences than a theatre usually targeted or that had unfortunate titles and wouldn’t sell, I realized that touring a show isn’t always about the best productions-it can’t be. Producing and presenting theatre is about having the right fit for your audience, about making choices that make economic sense, choices that have audience appeal and are artistically high in quality. In short, good theatre may look very different in different places, because mostly it’s about having the right match for a particular theatre.
What happens when you gather a group of professionals from around the world who all work in Theatre for Young Audiences? In my experience a lot of spirited conversation, really entertaining storytelling and more often than not some dancing. IPAY presented a wonderful opportunity to meet and network with folks from around the world. I had dinner with a group of wonderfully fun and talented people from Australia, was able to hear two of Scotland’s best theatre practitioners speak and was able to help out a lovely company from Denmark who needed someone to man their exhibit booth the final day of the conference. As I listened to all of these people talk about their work I began to realize how universal Theatre for Youth and its challenges can be. I learned that Scotland is facing a new round of funding cuts from their biggest funder, that the current financial situation for many of the theatres is causing them to think creatively in terms of how they continue doing the work they want/need to do while not knowing exactly how much funding will come through. Sitting at dinner with Thom from Imaginary Theatre in Australia I learned we are doing a lot of the same research, with both of us working to create new Theatre for the Very Young and trying to identify the educational impact. It was amazing to hear him speak and hear someone from across the globe name the same things you are doing, then to think about how we might be able to work together in the future. Finally, there is something fantastic about being approached for your expertise by a company from Denmark hoping that you can help them out by manning their booth for a day that makes you think that the work we do here isn’t very different at all from the work happening abroad.
I define a professional crush as anyone in your field of work who you admire so much that you really want to meet them, then upon having the opportunity to meet them you, at least momentarily, lose the ability to form coherent sentences the same way you did when you had a crush in middle school. It just so happened that one of my professional crushes, Dave Brown the artistic director of Patch Theatre in Australia, was attending IPAY and had agreed to have dinner with a group of students. By an act of fate (possibly aided by everyone knowing I was closely following Patch Theatre’s work and really wanted to meet Dave), I was lucky enough to sit next to him at dinner. As I introduced myself, Dave very nicely responded how everyone was telling him he had to meet me. This was the moment where I am fairly certain my face grew beet red and I lost the ability to form a coherent sentence as I tried to talk about the work I was doing in an intelligent manner. Luckily I recovered fairly quickly and was thrilled to be able to have a long conservation about the work going on at Patch Theatre and to talk a bit about the work I am doing as part of my thesis. I loved getting to meet Dave Brown and was thrilled to continue running into him over the next few days, to have him not only remember my name but also to continue to ask questions about what I was working on. One of the things I absolutely love about the community that works in drama and theatre for youth is how generous I have found most of the people in the field are with their time in talking with students and young professionals. Having had the opportunity to meet so many of the people whose work I admire has had such an amazing impact on my work. It can be truly amazing and inspiring to get to hear first hand accounts of both the successes and failures of practitioners who are creating the work you are studying. I have learned so much from the people I meet at conferences and am so glad to be in a field where people are willing to take time to share their work with the next generation.