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TBA Online: News & Features: June 2018

People’s Insides On the Outside: A TCG Conference Recap

Wednesday, June 20, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Rotimi Agbabiaka

Last week, Theatre Communications Group (TCG)—the national organization for the American theatre—presented its annual conference in St. Louis, Missouri. This conference is an opportunity for theatre professionals all over the nation to convene and engage with some of the most pressing issues facing the field.

Lisa Mallette, executive artistic director of San Jose’s City Lights Theater Company, has been a regularly TCG Conference attendee for the past three years. As part of a sizable Bay Area contingent, she has found herself at the center of many national conversations. We sat down with her to discuss her experience at this year’s conference.

Lisa Mallete. Photo courtesy Silicon Valley Artist Laureates.

How was this year’s TCG Conference different from past years’?

Overall I would say we are in a very challenging, tumultuous time in the world, let alone our field, and you can really feel it. It comes into every room and every conversation.

 I felt that so much more this year than the last two years. Things are shifting and changing and we need to catch up. There were lots of moments of feeling uncomfortable but, in a positive way, it’s not “business as usual.” This is a difficult field and we always have challenges and [at the conference] you can [usually] hear these similar themes of being overworked and under-resourced and that to me is business as usual. I feel like the challenges that people are struggling with [now] have elevated in nature and so in a way, as hard as it is, it feels good. Feel uncomfortable for a minute cause that’s the only way things are going to change. Last year the conference was straight through the EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) lens and I appreciated that and understood as a middle-aged white woman leading a theatre company I had some catching up to do. This year that [issue] still was so prevalent in the conversation but now add the #MeToo movement. Now you’ve really got people’s insides on the outside.

Where there any particular impactful moments at the conference?

I was sitting in the [#MeToo and the American Theatre] town hall where they set the stage and had an open mic for people to share experiences and make comments. And I personally was feeling solidarity with the people [sharing] and the bravery it took [to speak] and I was not concerned that I would be triggered. I have a lot of personal experience with not only harassment but actual assault and I didn’t feel like I was in a space where I was going to have any problem with that but at the end of it a woman came up and read a poem at the mic about taking her life back and I freaking lost it. I was sitting there and I had it all together and all of a sudden it was about me and I didn't expect that. So I was totally shocked by my response and I was unable to separate myself, the woman, from the practitioner. I was so surprised by the flood of emotion. So that was really powerful for me and I left that [town hall] thinking: yes, we have a lot of work to do in the field but maybe I’m not done with my own work.

What lessons will you take from this year’s conference?

This is a really heated time for everyone and I honestly feel like we all need to try even harder as we are educating ourselves and learning and growing and changing. We need to make a special effort to treat each other with care and love. Even though we may make mistakes or we may upset each other and people aren't exactly on the same page around these issues, I think that this time requires a lot of love and patience and understanding as we move forward. We walk through life making assumptions about each other, assumptions about the way things should be and—this is a page taken from Richard Evans’ work about adaptive leadership—we need to challenge all of our assumptions now. I’m gonna suggest [providing] a 10-sentence checklist to all artistic directors in the Bay Area: Did you think about this? About how you’re doing that? Are you inclusive about this? We must continue to keep gathering, convening, conferencing, putting all of our hearts and minds in the same space as much as possible. I feel we will move forward as a community in a much more successful way if we don't try to be on our own island. Good things happen when we’re in the same room together.

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