At Texas Performing Arts, we take our role as educators and mentors very seriously. Through the day-to-day activities of our student employment program, we are able to professionally involve students in every aspect of our organization—but we know that the professional arts world is much larger and wider. To help our students break into that wider world, we have an ongoing program to take a select group of students to New York each year to attend the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference and connect with our growing network of TPA alumni. At our core, as managers of student employees, we’re educators, and having the opportunity to show, connect, and inspire our students to be the next generation of arts leaders is one of the most important things we can do. –Tim Rogers, Student Engagement Coordinator
By Susannah Crowell, TPA Student Employee
The Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference is a yearly gathering of gaggles of artists, agents, and people from theaters all over the world. This January, I had the pleasure of flying to New York City to volunteer at the 2018 conference along with five fellow coworkers from Texas Performing Arts to take an inside peek into the industry!
I flew in nearly a week before the conference, mostly because I was so excited to be in the Big Apple again! I took dance classes at Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway, caught some live performances on stages and street corners, found food I’m still drooling over (the salmon and cream cheese-loaded bagel at Pick-a-Bagel, banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery, everything at Cafe Napoli… the list goes on), explored comedy clubs (and even tried my hand at standup!) and tried not to freeze to death in transport between the nice heated buildings. It was a time, my friends.
The party really got started when the conference kicked up! Student volunteers worked various shifts in exchange for attendance to the conference and year-long membership to APAP. As volunteers, we showed up to our assigned shifts at stations or conference rooms and followed instructions that ranged from basic counting to multi-step app instructions, nearly all of which had some great real-world application potential.
Most of my shifts involved assisting panels/sessions. The sessions were interesting to work because along with housekeeping and regulating duties before and after, I got to listen in. Two of the sessions I volunteered with, Youth Forum and Not Just a Buzz Word (about sensory-friendly performance and accommodating the theater for everyone), were especially wonderful as I’ve worked with children’s theaters and programs for neurodiverse students.
Shift volunteering wasn't always a walk in Central Park. At peak times in the afternoons, there could be a lot of hustle and bustle that could rival the streets below us! It never felt overwhelming, though, because the other APAP conference workers knew what was up and were great mentors on heavy-duty shifts.
One day when I worked the Press Desk, the other woman working the shift with me had been volunteering for APAP for over 12 years! She even knew most of the journalists coming to the desk to check in, and they were coming in from around the world. It made me feel like a part of a giant community.
One of my shifts at the Networking Lounge consisted solely of standing at a door and scanning people’s badges in for three hours. The other student working the shift with me was a student at SMU who was also there with a group of classmates. We ended up pairing up for a 5-hour Registration Desk shift the next day and becoming friends! Needless to say, the conference’s student networking game was real (and FUN!)
There was plenty to do at the conference when we weren't working. In the evenings, most artists at the conference performed in 15-minute showcases in the conference rooms in the hopes of being booked for tours. The diversity in artists and types of performance left me flabbergasted. I would see a snippet of a one-woman show, walk down the hallway, and watch a concert by a bagpipe rock band moments later. Like I said: a TIME.
Tim also set up some amazing tours, including one of Lincoln Center, led by a former UT student who now works there. It was interesting to see what the theaters had in common with others I’d been to and what made them unique, as well as what the employees did to operate the whole shebang on a day-to-day basis. The TPA student reunion dinner also brought countless nuggets of wisdom from city dwellers who had just a few years before been in our shoes!
Overall, APAP was an incredible opportunity to experience what goes into the professional world of performing arts in the city that I hope to call home later this year. I was grateful for the opportunity to see behind the scenes of what working in the performing arts can look like outside of Austin and for being able to attend a new favorite musical, Spongebob Squarepants.