By: David Grindle, USITT Executive Director
To conduct research and investigation in the field of theatre planning and design, construction, equipment, presentation, and operations …
These are the words that start our corporate charter. USITT was founded almost 59 years ago with research and the sharing of said research leading our purposes. So far, we seem to have done a good job of that.
From our research grants to things such as Tech Expo, USITT continues to seek out ways to share the exploration of the membership because it is something that members do every day as part of their lives. Regretfully, we don’t always think of it in that vein, but it is research.
I think of the times I’ve watched colleagues do color tests to see how a certain material holds paint. Or watching someone try a new lighting position in a theatre (or invent one — safely of course). I once did a show that inadvertently built a Faraday Cage because the scenery was made of pipe and the band for the show was using wireless. At least they tried to. A solution was found, but that ended up being a form of research.
We have this preconceived vision of research as requiring a lab, equipment, and white coats, but theatre is and has always been our lab. We work to create a world using materials that were often meant for other purposes. Does it always work? No. Does it sometimes work far better than we could have ever imagined? Oh yeah.
Our colleagues in the academy often get slighted as not being true research professors. I argue that is horribly wrong. Theatre design and technology professionals in all areas are the consummate research professionals because we are posed with a hypothesis each time a director starts the process. What if … And then we proceed to try and test things to find an answer. Sometimes that answer is because we are using technology and systems in a new way. Other times it is because we have a problem and no funding to solve it with conventional solutions (I still hold the “lobster” made of styrofoam cups and red spike tape as one of my favorite props).
Stand proud as research people. Your Institute was founded because the founders believed that the discoveries of our colleagues should be shared. Take a moment this year and submit for Tech Expo. Offer to write about what you’ve done for TD&T. Apply for an Innovation Grant or other funding. No discovery of how to create or make something is too small or seemingly unimportant. Your solution or struggle will likely be the common ground for you and someone else to make a connection and become better practitioners through your participation in USITT.