The Theatre Communications Group (TCG) is meeting in San Diego this week. It’s the first time this organization has held its annual meeting here and over 2,000 individuals have been attending sessions at the Hilton Bayfront, across from Petco Park. I’ve been at the Hilton, sitting in on a variety of plenary and breakout groups, and struggling with how to make the conference relevant to readers who are interested in theatre but who are not theatre professionals. The question that kept coming up for me was, “Why should you care?”
In a way, perhaps you shouldn’t. After all, this TCG event is like a lot of other professional conferences. There are presentations that relate to people who hold specific roles in theatrical organizations, for example, marketing managers, audience development specialists, and people who do government relations work. Some of these sessions are fairly technical and are perhaps of interest only to people who specifically work in those areas.
Other sessions are aimed at networking and sharing best practices among those who hold similar roles. Some of these sessions were open to all, but others were limited only to delegates whose titles put them into that group. While I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the meetings based on role I was told very politely at the outset that I wasn’t allowed into those rooms.
Finally, there were numerous sessions that related to the policies and practices that institutional theatres in the U. S. follow. A number of these sessions were critical of certain policies and practices, particularly regarding who is “privileged” and who gets left out or slighted in the process.
Now, I should clarify the nature of TCG at this point. It is an organization consisting of people who work in or with non-profit regional theatres of a variety of sizes and budgets. It doesn’t include people or organizations who produce commercial theatre. Even though there were workshops to performance practices and techniques, there was little to attract theatre fans. Neil Patrick Harris was not going to take off from his Tony-winning performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch to come and sign autographs for fans at TCG. Perhaps the two most well-known presenters were Andre de Shields and Craig Lucas, and maybe you’re wondering who they are (answer: a veteran actor and a well-produced playwright).
So far, I’ve told you mostly why you shouldn’t care about TCG unless you’re a professional who’s in the biz. But, there are some reasons you should care.
First, there is an economic benefit to the city from having this meeting in San Diego. And, city leaders seem aware of that benefit: for example, Congressman Scott Peters is taking time from his re-election battle to deliver the closing keynote Saturday afternoon.
Second, it is a breath of fresh air to have a meeting such as this one here. The Hilton is also hosting a medical conference at the same time as TCG, and medical conferences tend to be the coin of the realm in San Diego. The people attending TCG are A LOT different from the medical folks, and that’s a good thing!
Third, San Diego gets to show off more than a little for people from the rest of the country. Our theatre leaders were featured prominently in various speaking roles on the program, and Old Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein spoke eloquently about the quality of San Diego theatre in his welcome address. A number of theatre professionals, and some fans, served on the host committee and volunteered at the conference. And, delegates have their choice of seeing a number of the shows currently running, including world premiere performances of the Old Globe’s Dog and Pony, the La Jolla Playhouse/San Diego REP co-production of El Henry, and North Coast Rep’s Faded Glory.
And, the fact that we’ve had mild days with little or no June gloom didn’t hurt, either.
Finally, TCG gives our theatre community a chance to take stock. All-in-all, I think we’re doing pretty well, though there’s always room for improvement. For example, at one meeting I heard participants discussing that despite a plethora of gay men who work in theatre there are not so many gay men actually leading regional companies. I started counting and realized that we do quite well on that score.
So, TCG gives San Diego theatre a chance to shine and a chance to take stock. Both of those are good things and should benefit audience experience in the future. And, that’s the main reason why you should care that TCG came here.