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TBA Online: News & Features: April 2018

Why Go To A Theatre Conference? We Ask Four Theatre Professionals.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka

As springtime arrives, theatre professionals can look forward to sampling the wide array of national theatre conferences. Conferences offer opportunities for connection and education but what should one consider when deciding which to attend? We spoke to some Bay Area theatre professionals about their experiences at some of last year’s conferences, asking them to share their thoughts on the value of attending a theatre conference.

Mark Jackson, director, playwright, educator  

Photo courtesy Shotgun Players

Conferences attended

Theatre Bay Area Annual Conference

Theatre Communications Group National Conference

Sibiu International Theatre Festival

What prompted you to attend the TCG conference in Portland?

As a 2011 recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, I receive a subsidy from Edgerton to attend the annual TCG conference.

What are some of your favorite conference memories?

I have a number of good memories from the TCG and Theatre Bay Area conferences, usually centered on an experience with a speaker or activity that inspired me—whether around the question of "Why we make theater?” or, related to that, questions of cultural and ethical awareness. That said, a number of the international theatre festivals I’ve attended have had conference-like activities organized alongside their artistic programming.
Often at the TCG conference I find myself wondering, “What about the art?” The artistic aspects of theatre aren’t discussed much at the TCG and TBA conferences. My international festival experiences have seemed [to keep] the art and cultural politics directly connected. 

The single greatest experience I’ve had in that regard is the Sibiu International Theatre Festival in Romania, which featured the most diverse range of artists and events of any festival I’ve attended—large mainstream artists, small fringe artists, dance, literary events, panel discussions, street performances, free performances, university productions programmed next to major international artists, workshops, constant social events… All with people from around the globe. The art and politics couldn’t be separated if one tried. Very inspiring!

What's the greatest benefit of going to a theatre conference? 

At the TBA conference, it’s great to see and hear from local colleagues whom I don’t have as many chances to run into as I’d like. In the Bay Area, it’s very easy to swim in circles in your own corner of the pond.
At the national TCG conference, the benefit is to have access to a variety of perspectives on the state and practice of the equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) work going on nationally, to be in the room with people I don’t often have the opportunity to be in the room with whether due to cultural, regional, or job-description differences.
At the international theatre festivals that include conference-like programming, the benefit is the opportunity to see one to four shows a day, culled from around the globe, as well as panel discussions and other social events, and between these to chat casually and sometimes also professionally with new and old international colleagues. I’ve made lasting connections with artists or colleagues from other countries, with whom I continue to learn about new plays, artists, or further international opportunities and events.

Kevin Seaman, performance artist and arts administrator  
Photo courtesy Mr. Seaman

Conferences attended

Americans for the Arts Annual Convention

In what capacity were you involved in the Americans for the Arts conference?

I was tapped to serve on the host committee for the 2017 conference. The organization I work with, Bring Your Own Queer (BYOQ), was also selected to provide entertainment for the opening night party. Additionally, I was honored to be selected as the 2018 Emerging Leader award recipient.

What are your favorite memories from that conference?

On Saturday night, I hosted Mother, a local drag show at Oasis nightclub, after attending the VIP reception with AFTA board members and Congresswoman Pelosi. To go from a high class event to a nightlife event was a little bit of a culture shock, but seeing the same AFTA attendees at both events warmed my heart to no end.

What are some of the best theatre conferences you've attended over the years?

National Performance Network / Visual Arts Network: Their "In The Works!" 1-minute project presentations allowed everyone to concisely share their amazing work with the entire conference.

APAP | NYC (Association for Performing Arts Presenters): I've attended annually since 2016. This year, we began to see changes in LGBTQ visibility and I was thrilled to be in the room at the first Trans Art Professionals Forum. The American Realness and Under the Radar theatre festivals, that happen during APAP, have blown me away every single year.

Why go to a theatre conference?

Relationships! During our first day of the APAP Leadership Fellows Program, professional mentor Kenneth Foster told us to "actively pursue relationships.”

I go to conferences to expand my world and learn about the amazing work that other people are doing. I also go because I believe the work we do in the Bay Area needs to pierce our bubble and be shared with the world. We spend so much time hustling that even though we may come to a conference with a specific agenda, the best possible way to spend time is seeing how your values are reflected in others that work in your local, regional or national community. 

Joan Osato, visual artist and arts administrator

Photo by Drew Atizer

Conferences attended

National Performance Network National Conference

How did you get involved with the NPN Conference?

I am producing director for YouthSpeaks, which has premiered many works, usually in San Francisco, and taken them on national and international tours. YouthSpeaks is a member of National Performance Network/Visual Arts Network, and I was voted onto the NPN/VAN board almost two years ago. I offered to host the conference in San Francisco and pulled together a cohort of other organizations in SF to support the conference.

What was it like to host a national conference?

We basically wanted to do the best conference ever, which was really easy with all the incredible Bay Area artists who we were able to present [such as] Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Ana Teresa Fernandez and Sharon Bridgforth.

I was really proud of the ways the entire Bay showed up for that and represented their work so incredibly to a national field of presenters and colleagues. I love the Bay, I happen to think that we’ve just got this special flavor and I think everyone in the network should definitely know about it.

Why go to a conference?

Attending NPN is about relationship building. From the artist perspective, I know it’s a really odd place to be and really difficult to talk about your work and to think about the lens that people are viewing it through so I think it’s really good practice for artists.

Are there any other conferences you’d recommend?

I’ll have to give a big up to the Consortium of Asian American Theaters and Artists. I’m a part of their organizing committee and we did a fantastic festival in partnership with Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2016. It was small enough—like 300 people—to where it didn’t feel overwhelming and yet the amount of showcasing—I believe there were seven presented shows plus two OSF productions—was really expansive. We’re doing it again this year in Chicago from August 13 to 18.

Ryan Nicole Austin, actor, musician, writer

Photo courtesy Ms. Austin

Conferences attended

National Performance Network National Conference

What prompted you to attend the NPN conference?

I had been asking a group of mentors how I could further my work and a couple of people, including Marc Bamuthi Joseoh, told me about NPN and the application process [for performing at the conference]. I didn’t have a piece written but I had an idea in mind. [Poet and spoken word artist] D’dra White and I came together, we wrote an abstract, sent a couple of pages in the application. We felt like we were shooting for the stars and were fortunate enough to be chosen to take part in the conference.

What did you enjoy most at the conference?

Being able to see the [other] performances both during rehearsals and before and after our piece [If You Give a Black Girl a Lemon]. Just knowing I was in this group of exclusive artists and being able to see the caliber of work that was being presented, that was my favorite part. 

What did you gain from attending the conference?

Affirmation. I didn't know if our work was credible enough, if it was relevant, if it spoke to other people, if it was theatrical enough to fit theatre. So to shoot in the dark and land and feel my work affirmed by everybody else’s work; just to know I was in the room with people I respected and on the stage with those same people, that was really great.

Rotimi Agbabiaka is the Features Curator for Theatre Bay Area. He is an actor, writer, director, teaching artist, and a collective member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Learn more about him at

You can find more professional development opportunities and conferences in TBA’s Industry Services listings.