I began my tenure as Chair of the LMDA Conference during the early days of COVID. This was back when we thought we would have a vaccine in six months. That did not happen.
As more live performances were cancelled, city streets became empty wastelands, and spring dragged into summer, COVID gave us an opportunity to pause our activities, and reflect on our processes.
After talking to our members across the dramaturgical spectrum, we found that they prioritized access, rigorous conversation, and introduction to new practices. To serve these needs, we’ve created a far-reaching access strategy which we began implementing in January. This strategy includes connecting with experts who can educate us in best practices, nurturing new donors who will support additional access initiatives, and we opened Conference participation to all artists who specialize in live performance.
Our Conference this year will occur both online and in-person in Philadelphia (USA) with the theme “Performance Outside the Proscenium.” Our specific artistic mission with this ground-breaking gathering is to ignite a global conversation about the impact / purpose / process / evolution of work outside of the traditional “theater” space. This conference will ask participants to examine how space impacts the dramaturgy of the work, and how work lives, breathes, and evolves in different locations. For example, we will be discussing digital theatre, touring shows, cabaret, circus, online performance, outdoor theater, site-specific work, burlesque, museum performance, installation performance, and more.
In terms of the specific fulfillment of initial access initiative goals, we have:
- PlayOn Shakespeare and Hands Up Productions will provide 30 hours of ASL interpretation during their Zoom Day on July 21 as well as over the weekend of July 23-24 at the in-person Conference.
- United Airlines provided free airline tickets to artists around the country who otherwise would not be able to afford to attend the in-person Conference and tripled their scholarship fund thanks to the generous support of Yards Brewery and individual donors.
- Individual donors and the National Endowment for the Arts also supported an English-Spanish, Spanish-English translation process which will allow for bilingual video-sharing during the Digital Conference. Participants will be able to select no subtitles, English subtitles, or Spanish subtitles for 30 videos that span topics from Opera Burlesque to Working with Indigenous Communities to the Dramaturgy of Circus Performance.
- The Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) will provide stipends that reduce the cost of babysitting and other care needs. These stipends will be available on the Conference App after participants register.
- All Conference spaces are ADA Accessible and there will be quiet rooms at the Conference Hub for nursing mothers and anyone who needs a break from the flurry of activities. Designed after conversations with LMDA’s own Disability Affinity Space (DAS), ArtReach, and the Philly Autism Project, this is our first foray into neurodivergent support. We look forward to learning more about how to shape this resource this summer and implement a revised plan next year.
- To keep the conversation going beyond the Conference, we built connections with the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET), Directors Gathering (DG), and the Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association (TSDCA). Participants in the 2022 LMDA Conference will have the opportunity to activate a free individual membership to each organization. This free membership will help conversations continue across the nation, and also provide an opportunity for greater resource sharing.
- We’ve also “added a ‘unique needs’ section to our registration form so if there is a need that you don’t see addressed by our programming, you can reach out and we will work with you to address your needs or offer additional resources where you can go to have your needs met.
- Over the new few weeks before the Conference begins on July 20, we will also be working in the Conference Hub at the Arden’s Hamilton Family Arts Center to post useful signage, donated by Signarama in Old City Philadelphia, create wheelchair seating areas, and more.
While LMDA was originally an organization for literary managers and dramaturgs, after taking a COVID-pause, it has bloomed into an in-person and virtual platform that supports all dramaturgically-minded performing artists and administrators – no matter how they identify in terms of artistic labels or where they live.
We are excited about LMDA’s new era and hope that you will join us this summer online, in-person, or both! For more information about LMDA and Conference: www.lmda.org/2022-conference
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.