June 30 marked the end of Dan Culhane’s first year as president of USITT. Throughout the past 365 days, Culhane has gotten his footing in his new position and continues to serve the Institute while balancing a career and family life. How does he do it all? We sat down with Culhane at USITT19 in Lousiville to pick his brain on upcoming ideas, work-life balance, the importance of USITT, and his thoughts on his first year as President.
What is your fondest memory of USITT so far?
When we hired David Grindle. I was on the board at the time and was chairing the search committee for David’s position. We had been interviewing people and looking at resumes. When David walked through, it was a big difference from him from the other candidates. That’s really my fondest memory of going through and finding David because it really is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. That missing puzzle piece that you can plug in and then let it run. And David has been great for plugging in and letting it run and I have to give kudos to Sylvia Hillyard Pannell and Carl Lefko for having the foresight of changing the operation of the board from an operational type board to governance type board that will allow room for David to plug in and succeed. I really have a great debt for those two, for taking us and putting us where we are today.
What advice would you give someone starting their career in the industry?
Get involved and stay involved. I’ve always said this. Don’t step in, step out. It’s kind of like life. If something doesn’t work out, you step back and you figure out how to do it. I would say that by doing that and staying at it long enough, you’ll see that one person can make a difference. And you see that all over the place. You can look at a number of people at USITT where one person has stepped up and made a difference.
How do you find a balance between career, family, and Board service?
I have a wife who’s a stage manager, so she is working a lot of evenings. I have kids that are in college, so I have some time during the evenings. It’s not uncommon that people get emails from me at 11 p.m. because that’s when I’m sitting down and working on the USITT stuff. I usually put in a full day at work and I’ve always tried not to let this interfere too badly in my day job because, well, they’re paying me to do a job.
I try and give good value for that day job. I tend to work there from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then I go home and usually I go to the gym and then eat and then sit down in front of a computer and start my next job. I tend to get focused and lose track of time. I’m one of those people. I don’t check my other email often enough and I’m trying to set aside time during the day, a couple of times during the day, where I could go in and look at my other email accounts so I can be more responsive in that way. That’s something I’m working on. It’s a balance.
Is there anything that has surprised you during your first year as president?
I’m always amazed at what this organization accomplishes because of so many volunteers. Occasionally, I’ll read something and it’s like, “I didn’t know we were doing that — that’s great!” It just makes us better. The more diversity we have, the more avenues we’re going down, the better we all are.
What’s something you’d like to accomplish by the end of your term?
There’s a lot of stuff I would like to accomplish. One of the things that I’m pushing on and would like to move more into is a relationship with Event Safety Alliance. A lot of our membership, if you look at a Venn diagram of overlapping circles, has a large overlap in what we do and what they do. I see us both getting stronger by a relationship from that. Especially with certain issues that we have. We’re not going to solve them, but what we can do is make it safer for everybody. I’m really excited about that.
Would you say that’s a mission of yours?
Safety has always been my mission. I do rigging safety with ESTA and I’m one of the co-chairs of the Stage Machinery Working Group writing standards for them. I help represent USITT on NFPA-80, which is an opening protectives dealing with fire curtains. I’m on a UL Committee for testing of fire curtains. It’s other code stuff. It’s the whole safety aspect that I’m looking for. That goes back to one person can make a difference. If we don’t work on those safety standards and get involved in those safety standards, somebody else is going to write them, and it may or may not work for us. I’d much rather be writing it than the other end of having to follow along.
What value does USITT hold for you?
On many, many levels, it’s network. A sense of family. I grew up here, my network is here. Friendships are here. I like helping make things happen and that’s what’s so great about coming here and seeing the Conference & Stage Expo. It’s great because we’re growing. We had our largest attendance this year and we had the largest show floor for that so it’s great. We’re just getting to a point now where we have so many vendors and that attracts people and when we’ve got people, that attracts vendors. Hopefully it’s self-sustaining now where they’re self-feeding each other. That makes me very happy.