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Making Working in Theatre Work for Everyone

Educators and Theatre Professionals Come Together at Center Theatre Group’s Workforce Readiness Symposium

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Center Theatre Group Next Generation Initiatives Director Camille Schenkkan speaking to university educators at the first Workforce Readiness Symposium

The mix of business, artistry, and personal responsibility that comes with a creative career in theatre can be tricky to master, especially for young, emerging professionals. As part of our efforts to support an ever-growing and increasingly diverse theatre community in Los Angeles, Center Theatre Group hosted our first Workforce Readiness Symposium on September 22, 2018 at East Los Angeles College, our official higher education partner.

More than a dozen colleges and universities were involved as planning partners for the event, and over 30 higher education institutions from across L.A. were represented among the educators and administrators who attended. The goal, explained Center Theatre Group Next Generation Initiatives Director Camille Schenkkan, was to provide a time and place for this group to gather and have a robust conversation about the hard and soft skills students need to succeed in professional theatre.

The event began with opening presentations from theatre artists, professors, career center representatives, and others, all focused on what theatre students need before graduation. Speakers included Celebration Theatre Co-Artistic Director Michael A. Sheppard, who spoke on representation and diversity, and Chapman University Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies Dr. Jocelyn L. Buckner, who provided a snapshot of the university’s senior theatre seminar. Playwright Luis Alfaro delivered a keynote reflecting on his experience as both a practicing artist and university educator.

Representatives from Center Theatre Group provided an employer perspective, discussing hiring trends and fieldwide needs. Attendees also reviewed the results of the Southern California Theatre Alumni Survey, conducted by Center Theatre Group this summer, which asked local theatre alumni to weigh in on the career training they received, as well as what training would have been helpful to them as they embarked on their careers.

I felt like I belonged to a community that is so in love with the art, the mentorship of this field, and this vision of supporting our performers, artists, and creatives.

The consensus among all presenters was the need to emphasize more general skills—especially financial skills, both personal and professional. They also agreed that there is a tremendous breadth of opportunities available to young people. Attendees then split into groups to discuss career training within specific theatre disciplines, such as acting, stage management, and design, and topics such as how best to support diverse students, as well as institutions’ hiring needs and requirements.

Each group was tasked with creating a list of what a student studying a particular discipline would need to learn to prepare them for the professional world. Schenkkan said she is excited to share these lists, as well as the survey results and other findings from the day: Rather than coming only from Center Theatre Group, these lists and consensus are coming from all of these schools and institutions collectively.

A number of the attendees made it clear that educational institutions are excited to collaborate closely with one another and with the greater Los Angeles theatre ecosystem. I left so inspired by the words of our faculty and allies in the arts, said Rosa Trujillo, a Career Counselor at California State University, Long Beach. I am not a practicing artist in theatre, but that day, I felt like I belonged to a community that is so in love with the art, the mentorship of this field, and this vision of supporting our performers, artists, and creatives.

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