The Roundabout Theatrical Workforce Development Program joined USITT 2017 for the first time in St. Louis with a group of students referred to as “fellows.”

The TWDP program, which takes place over the span of three years, gives 18-24 year olds from underrepresented communities the chance to work hands-on in multiple disciplines of technical theatre and train with some of the industry’s top professionals.

USITT Executive Director, David Grindle, talked about the possibilities the Institute’s partnership with Roundabout can bring. “Partnerships with organizations such as Roundabout help us work as an industry to grow the diversity of our workforce by working together'” Grindle said. “Each of us grows the impact our programs thus resulting in a larger impact on our industry as a whole. We are very excited to work with Roundabout and look forward to the benefits of our partnership.”

Below is a Q&A with Karen Loftus, Roundabout Theatre’s Education Program Manager.

USITT: How was the overall experience of USITT 2017 for you and the Roundabout Theatrical Workforce Development Program fellows?

KL: They enjoyed the whole experience immensely. It was overwhelming but overwhelming in a good way for them. They very much enjoyed the demos and being a part of the demos and we even had one of them in the quiz bowl.

For some of them, it was the longest time they had been away from home so that was a challenge for them on a personal level. There was so much to do and so much going on so towards the end of the week they started tiring out. The only negative feedback I received was there were sessions they wanted to take that just overlapped with others, which is probably something everybody says.

Were there any sessions or panels that resonated with the Roundabout TWDP fellows?

There were panels that were more beneficial to them like the People of Color Network, Women in Theatre, and Queer Nation. Those were exceptional for them because there was 100 percent engagement.

Now that your students are home, how would you like them to implement what they’ve learned?

I think the key is their exposure to a lot of new equipment has been very helpful. Part of their training includes backstage observations, so while they won’t be able to get their hands on all the equipment that they demoed at USITT, if they come across it they’re going to remember it and remember things about it.

What was most beneficial for you and the Roundabout TWDP fellows?

The ability to walk the expo floor and talk with the vendors was helpful for them because it gave them a better understanding of the industry overall, like who exactly ETC is. I think outside of their ability to interact with equipment that we don’t have daily here, is that they met a variety of people from around the country.

What do you hope the Roundabout TWDP fellows took away from the experience?

What they’re taking back from USITT is an overall awareness of the size and scope of the entertainment industry. One of the workshops we attended was about the live event industry which is something we’ve been trying to explain to them here, but they hadn’t been grasping it. The ability to sit and meet and listen to the people who own the event companies talk about hiring technicians and how it all works and breaking down the vocabulary helped them. Now they can apply that to the live event industry here in NYC. They realize that on their off days they can contact these companies and get work already while they’re still training.

Four of them have been selected to work on a show down at the Lortell Theatre. They’re doing a musical version of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. They are subbing in as A2s and their ability to interact with the different equipment while they were at USITT helps to give them a better understanding of the equipment that they’re working with.

Any closing thoughts?

We were appreciative of the warm welcome we received and how excited people were about programs like the Theatrical Workforce Development Program. It’s exciting that the focus on alternative training as well as diversity and underserved and underrepresented communities is a topic that is so much on the forefront of USITT.  The connections we’ve made and the networking that I did as a teacher has been tremendous because it’s only going to benefit them. We’re looking forward to Fort Lauderdale!