USITT’s 2013 Conference & Stage Expo was One for the Books

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Rose Brand once again handed out Action Design Competition awards and swag to the scenic designers of tomorrow. Photo by Jacob CoakleyThe United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) reported a banner year for its four-day Annual Conference & Stage Expo. Held March 20-23, 2013 at Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Delta Center, the event attracted more people and products than any other in the conference’s 53-year history.

“It is exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time — and always innovative,” said USITT President Lea Asbell-SwangerUSITT’s cheesehead-clad  David Will gave a warm welcome to frosty Wisconsin. Photo by Mark Putman.

More than 5,000 made the trek to frosty Wisconsin for the nominally springtime event, including 215 exhibitors displaying their latest offerings in just under 35,000 square feet of exhibition space.

New products were a key draw, and so were more than 200 seminars on a wide range of topics.

Backdrops and scenic elements painted by students and artists at Cobalt Studios adorned the walls at the USITT show expo. Photo by Jacob CoakleyShow attendees gave high ratings to this year’s crop of instructional offerings, ranked this year by level of experience, from introductory to advanced, reflecting the wide range of industry experience levels at the event, from students to seasoned pros.

The seminar titles —  “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out — Recommended Practices for Stage Firearms” and “A Pound of Flesh,” a costuming workshop on how to add weight to actors, were as creative as the garb worn by those participating and leading the event.

Between the event’s keynote speech by Rob Goodman and its closing party, where three fellowships of more than $20,000 were announced, the event also offered attendees plenty of opportunities for networking and learning from such backstage VIPs.

Tony-winning designer Donyale Werle was on hand to discuss “green theatre” and served as a judge for Rose Brand’s Scenic Design Scholarship. Photo by Jacob CoakleyAt this year’s event, 2012 Tony Award-winning scenic designer Donyale Werle was on hand to discuss her campaign for “green theatre.” She outlined the goals of the Broadway Green Alliance, which has, among other things, encouraged the use of energy-efficient LED lighting in Broadway marquees and actively supports proper disposal and reuse of theatrical supplies and scenic materials.

Among the more than 200 seminars was one comparing the output 	    of   incandescent profile fixtures and LED alternatives. Here,          Chauvet’s Ben Dickmann helps with the setup for the event. Photo by Justin LangUSITT also included live demonstrations of LED lighting alternatives, such as a seminar comparing the output of LED and incandescent fixtures led by LDs Steve Shelley, Hideaki Tsutsui and Richard Cadena that included dimming, four color comparisons and gobos, with the panelists tasked with identifying which was produced by LEDs and which by traditional tungsten bulbs.

Also attending was costume designer Desmond Heeley. He was the first designer to win Tonys for both set and costume design in 1968; he won his most recent Tony in 2011 for costuming The Importance of Being Earnest. Heeley was among four Distinguished Achievers honored by USITT at this year’s event.

The association also recognized the backstage VIPs of the future with its bestowal of nine 2013 Young Designers & Technicians Awards along with naming Aaron Porter as the honoree for its Rising Star Award.

USITT’s next Annual Conference & Stage Expo will take place in Fort Worth, TX March 26-29, 2014; more information is at

YD&T Awards Winners

USITT awarded its 2013 Young Designers & Technicians Awards, with nine awards honoring designers in the areas of production, sound, lighting, costumes, makeup, stage management, set design and scenic technology.

Winners are nominated by USITT members and chosen by a panel of experts in their field. Each winner received a cash prize up to $1,000 along with free registration to the annual conference and expo. They were also featured in a special presentation the first night of the show.

Honorees included Cole W. Muth, University of Wisconsin — Madison, who won the KM Fabrics Inc. Technical Production Award honoring excellence in technical direction or production; Daniel Perez, Yale University School of Drama, who won the Frederick A. Buerki Golden Hammer Award; Erik T. Lawson, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, who won the Robert E. Cohen Sound Achievement Award; Albulena Borovci, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, who won the Zelma H. Weisfeld Costume Design & Technology Award; Ethan Vail, Purdue University, who won the USITT Lighting Design Award (sponsored by Barbizon Lighting Company); Courtney O’Neill, Northwestern University, who won the USITT Scene Design Award sponsored by Rose Brand; Jared LeClaire, University of West Georgia, who won the USITT W. Oren Parker Undergraduate Scene Design Award sponsored by Stage Decoration & Supplies; Lauren Wilde, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, who won the USITT Makeup Design Award sponsored by Kryolan Professional Makeup; Peyton Taylor Becker, and University of North Carolina School of the Arts, who won the USITT Stage Management Award sponsored by Clear-Com.

A total of 60 students were nominated for the 2013 YD&T awards: all submitted resumes, letters of recommendation, and a portfolio of their work to a panel of experts in the specific area of the award.

Bill Sapsis, dressed as Uncle Sam, presides over the annual raffle to support Behind the Scenes.Raffles and Contests

As usual, USITT was a hotbed of raffles and contests, with proceeds going to worthy causes. The Long Reach Long Riders marked their 10th year with a raffle and live auction to benefit Behind the Scenes (BTS), the charity that assistants entertainment technology professionals in need due to serious illness or injury, with sales of raffle tickets and BTS/LRLR-branded swag generating  just over $12,000 for the charity — a 25 percent increase over last year’s event.

Bill Sapsis, a LRLR founder president of Sapsis Rigging, who served as master of ceremonies for LRLR’s fundraising effort, threw out a last minute challenge to the gathered crowd; if they came up with at least $500 in the last few minutes before the raffle, he would double that with a $1,000 donation. The crowd rose to the challenge.

Raffle winners and prizes included grand prize winner Brian Gilmartin, who won Vectorworks Spotlight software with Renderworks. Other winners included Scott Garey, who took home a Stage Technician’s Kit from BMI Supply; Fran Sutherland, who won a $250 Visa Gift Card from Daktronics; Megan Henninger, who won a DMX USB pro MK2 with case from ENTTEC; Karen Brown-Larimore, who won a Kindle Fire from InterAmerica Stage; Roger Bardwell, who won a 16GB Wi-Fi iPad Mini from iWeiss; Eileen Devany, who won 50 sheets of gel from Lee Filters; William Hanna, who won a $250 gift certificate at; Jeff Mateer, who won a $250 gift certificate at Sapsis Rigging; and Christine Wille, who won a free chance to attend USITT 2014.

The LRLR/BTS raffle was accompanied by a large crowd and festivities including the traditional kazoo parade, special recognition of the Long Reach Long Riders who have raised over $350,000 for charity since their first ride to Long Beach 10 years ago, swag freebies donated by InterAmerica Stage and Teqniqal Systems and a live auction. The auction included two tickets for The Book of Mormon along with a backstage tour donated by IATSE Local One and pens, wine stoppers and seam rippers from Shan and Trish Ayers.

Sapsis also recognized the companies that have signed up for the Behind the Scenes Pledge a Product Program, which allows a company’s employees and customers to participate in supporting the charity.

Rosco presented the proceeds from the sales of Roscolux #359 Medium Violet — $2,540 this year. Since they began this annual donation, Rosco has contributed a total of $12,731 to Behind the Scenes.

Other BTS backers included ETC. Chris Mizerak, the developer of ETC’s iRFR smart phone app, was on hand to present a check for the proceeds from the company’s sales for the app.

Sapsis also recognized TMB for their recent pledge of ProXS Professional lighting fixture accessories, Apollo Design Technology for the Apollo BTS Wrench, and Lex Products for the Bento Box series.

Along with USITT honorees and raffle winners, some of the attending companies announced scholarships. Rose Brand presented its 2013 Scenic Design Scholarship to Natalie Khuen, a theatre design student at the University of California, San Diego. Among those on the panel of judges was Tony Award-winner Donyale Werle. In addition to a $5,000 scholarship, Khuen’s school will receive a $2,500 credit at Rose Brand.