An inside look at what happens at a High School Theatre Conference from the other side of the table!
Up at 5 am to get to the airport. Ugh. Too early. Who decided to fly so early? Oh right, me. We have to go to Chicago first and then catch a flight to Austin. The majority of our catalogues and samples are already in Austin which makes for less bags to lug around. The good news is that because we’re flying in the AM, we’ll be in Austin in the early afternoon and should have time to get settled before going to the conference. The bad news is, when you get up at five, early afternoon feels like midnight.
We’re off to TETA, the Texas Educational Theatre Association Conference. It’s the big one. The huge one. The grand kahuna of theatre teacher conferences. Over a hundred exhibitors, four days, tons of teachers looking for plays and many (many, many, many) hours of smiling and standing. I’m a somewhat quiet, cranky person at heart and you never know how difficult it is to smile and be friendly until you do it from dawn to dusk more than one day in a row. But it’s worth it. We get to meet our customers and our customers get to meet us. The age of technology is a wonderful thing and we are able to accomplish a lot without every speaking to another human being. But I truly believe people like face to face contact. They want to know who they’re buying from and that there is someone behind the catalogue or website.
The start of a conference is always a flurry of activity. Everything needs to be set up, books here, papers flying everywhere, empty boxes, people asking questions, you have no idea what the answer is, rushing to make your table look nice because presentation is everything and finally you’re done, you’re set and you can take a breath.
So I take my first breath and I’m worried. I don’t think we’re in a good spot. We’re hidden by a wall of fabric on one side and the booth across from us isn’t inviting enough to pull people down the aisle beyond that wall. Traffic flow is incredibly psychological. It’s easy to be missed. I don’t mind if people don’t like our stuff but I want the chance to give it to them!
Ok. We’re ready to go. We’re ready to go. And hmmmm. Very quiet and slow. The conference has never done exhibiting on the Wednesday night and there’s not a lot of participants about. Better luck tomorrow…..
The day is off to a good start – A school that performed Mmmbeth (yay Allison!) at Texas Thespians drops by the booth to tell us how much they enjoyed the play. She said that the kids didn’t even have to be pushed to learn their lines. A great compliment!
And then I had a teacher and a couple of students come up to me regarding The Canterbury Tales. Their production is in February and the teacher told me about a very neat set element – they are taking a staircase and covering it in burlap which should look quite cool. Because my productions are often far flung I rarely get to see them or talk to those involved in the productions. It’s always fun for me to hear what a school is doing with a play.
Today is a steady stream of people….missing our booth. We have our work cut out for us but we’re rising to the challenge. We are Theatrefolk, hear us roar! Actually it’s working rather well. There are a lot of teachers here who don’t know us. That means we can’t sit quietly with our hands folded behind the table. We can’t let someone come to us – we have to go to them. We have to stand front and centre and interact with people. (Ack! Eek! Talking!) Put a catalogue in the hands of anyone who looks twice at us. Find out who’s a high school teacher. When someone asks who we are and what we do, have an answer. When someone is looking for a certain type of play, have an answer. Smile and talk, smile and talk.
Now, the upside of this is that we get a lot of catalogues into the hands of people who didn’t know us. There are so many excited, enthusiastic teachers here. It’s fun talking about theatre with people who are on the same page as you are.
The downside, are the poo-lookers. These are the people who look at your table as if there is a pile of poo on it. Why? I don’t know. It’s just a table with scripts on it. It’s not going to do anything that I would consider worthy of a poo-look.
And here’s my question. Why is it, when people look at a table of scripts, look at our sign that says “Theatrefolk: Original Playscripts for High Schools”? and then look at us with disdain and say “What is this?”? It’s plays. What else could it be?
It’s hard not to be depressed by the poo-lookers. But the reality is that it’s not their fault. They just have no idea who we are. It’s our job to change that. Fertilize that poo and plant a garden. Or something like that….
By six o’clock I don’t care too much about the poo lookers or how rewarding the experience is or anything. If I don’t eat a proper meal I’m going to eat my chair. Even though there are two of us at the booth, there’s really no breaks. I have no idea how people single-handidly man a booth. When do they pee? I need to eat and sit. Sitting would be good. So would falling into a coma.
More smiling, more talking, more standing.
The cool thing that happened today was when we sold out of the Mmmbeth’s we brought. The teacher who did the production kept bringing over teachers and telling them to buy the play. Word of mouth is the best form of marketing there is. It’s so wonderful to have teachers tell other teachers about us!
Hmmm. I have no more notes about Friday. Perhaps I blocked it all out. Maybe I fell into that coma.
Ah ha! I now dance my dance of joy and celebration. No comas today! An extraordinary day. After two days of slogging and poo-lookers, we had a lot of returnees. People looking for us. Yay! People who took a catalogue, took a look at it and then came back to check us out. (insert second happy dance of joy and celebration here) That means we’re doing a good job with our materials, which is always nice.
It’s amazing how much we learn from conferences. We learn something new at every one. At our first conference all our plays were the same colour, because when we sent them out of the office only, it didn’t matter what colour they were. But when you have scripts on a table and they are all the same colour, they look like the same play. We also didn’t have any description on the back – the first thing everyone does when they are at the table is turn the play over to see what it’s about. We’re always learning, always changing, always growing. It’s like going to school only we don’t have to pay for it.
I’m excited, exhilarated and exhausted. Have I mentioned how tiring this is? Why is it so tiring? It’s a job I like doing. It’s a job I love doing. It’s not one of the top ten hard jobs. It’s not brain surgery or coal mining. But at the end of the day I feel like I’ve been hit with a hammer.
Back to the airport. Craig and I almost fall asleep waiting for the plane. And in two weeks we’re off to Georgia for their state thespian conference. It starts all over again. And we love it.