I recently traveled to Portland, Ore., for the first time as a participant in the National Conference of the Theatre Communications Group.
TCG holds annual conferences for theatre practitioners and administrators from organizations nationwide to convene, strategize, celebrate successes, and make new connections. At the end of the long weekend, participants go back to their respective cities infused with a unified sense of artistic focus.
I love being a resident of Columbus. Here, we are able to be heard when we speak. We are able to find platforms from which to articulate our views. Unlike in larger cities, our contributions to our community are tangible and our presence and investment in one another seems worthwhile. This reality can be hypnotic. Growing up here, I observed that people seemed sucked into the vortex of Columbus, unable to leave its pull for bigger and better locations. Now that I’m an adult, I feel the pull of the Columbus vortex myself — but it makes my life better, not worse.
That being said, I found it extremely powerful — healing, even — to participate in a national convening of fellow artists. I imagine this would be true for any career person who participates in national conferences. Sharing space and ideas with colleagues from all over the country offers a welcome, widened perspective. I realized that the ideas, challenges, hopes and fears that I hold as a somewhat isolated playwright and dramatic writing professor in Columbus are not as unique as my imagination might have suggested.
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The importance of checking in with colleagues on a national level does have something to do with learning what the field finds valuable and challenging on a large scale, but it also adds dimension to a rather flat understanding of the world outside Columbus.
What do my new friends in Portland, black, white, Hispanic and Asian, make of the recent train shooting? What do my new friends in Detroit find to be their greatest challenges as artists and citizens? Is it what I read on the news? No, it is always far more complex and compelling than that. How about those colleagues in New York City? Surely all that glitters is gold. They have access to so many theaters and opportunities. What could they have to gripe about? Oh, a little thing called work/life balance, affordable rent, and the longing for a community that's a little smaller, a little slower, a little more like ... ours.
What a wonderful opportunity to glimpse into the world of others, and to share my own with them! Thankfully this digital age allows me to stay connected with my new friends. But I will certainly plan on seeing them in person again next year: the trip outside my bubble is well worth it.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at email@example.com.