• Crystal Marie Stewart

More Than an Email

While preparing to attend this year's conference I remember thinking “what… are we going… to…. Do?????” Not because I thought that Anne, Jess, Monica, and all the amazing folks at NNPN wouldn’t have things PLANNED for us but because after all these many months of Zoom meetings that could have been EMAILS I found this tiny defiant part of myself getting very grumpy at the prospect of an ONLINE. CONFERENCE. Conferences are for going to a hotel and eating danish and running into your 2nd grade art teacher (true story! I also ran into my prom date at a callback! We both booked it.) But I’m one of this years’ NNPN Producers in Residence and am therefore required to go - and also New PLAYS! I love those! So I put on real pants, booted up my laptop, and had a genuinely delightful time. This conference should not have been an email. And, ironically, it did feel kinda like a regular degular real life conference?

Sometimes you need to laugh and cry and see folks’ faces and be reminded that tons of people all over the world are breathing and feeling just like you do.

For instance. In the opening plenary (did anyone else have to look this word up? I definitely DID and while it does mean the opening session that is meant to be attended by everyone at a conference it ALSO means unqualified and absolute. Which is DOPE considering what this opening plenary was about) we learned about the No More 10 out of 12s Movement. I was vaguely aware of this because I do not personally enjoy 10 out of 12s, but I came to the industry as an Actor First, and therefore didn’t know many of the truly heinous aspects of the 10 out of 12 schedule. I remember Lawrence specifically talking about how this schedule was created to attempt to make the schedule easier on actors, but then the crew and designers end up having to stay even longer and getting very little rest - and those of us in the chat began to commiserate and discuss how THIS DOESN’T HELP ACTORS EITHER! No one is served by this schedule! I also was glad that we got to talk about the misconception (in my OWN SPICY OPINION a deliberate misconception) that this movement is saying “let’s just tech the show less- that’s not what the movement is saying! It’s an attempt to redistribute the rehearsal hours in a more equitable and holistic way, so that everyone gets what they need in a way that is safe.

Why It's Time for Change panel at NNPN's Annual Conference

But what felt VERY conference-y is that, in the chat, we were all sharing horror stories from past 10 out of 12s. And talking about ways we’ve been able to speak up for ourselves and for others. And talking about reasons why we haven’t felt empowered to do so in the past. And talking about ways we can stick up for one another in the future - admin discussing ways to justify it to board members, actors talking about ways to stick up for crew, and playwrights asking if they could just flat-out say they won’t let theaters do their plays if they are gonna do 10 out of 12s??? And one of those playwrights in the chat, who I got to converse with, was Arlene Hutton- whose play “As it is in Heaven” was the very first play I had a lead role in in undergraduate school!!! Gimme a Danish, right??

Or take, for example, the moments I got to share with Beaufield Berry (who I found out is also a Hawkeye) and Katherine MacHolmes during the “We are in Relationship to Each Other: Interdependent Accountabilities and Human-Centered Artistic Practice” breakout session about our mutual experiences as Black women in theatre. By the end of that session we were all following each other on Instagram, had hand signals, and had found a tight little community together- and their production of Buffalo Women (a Black cowgirl MUSICAL y’all) was truly delightful and unique - and I wouldn’t have found out about it if I hadn't ducked into that session. And ain’t that just like a conference??? Where you scoot into a meeting room and make fast friends with brilliant creatives you feel like you’ve known forever, and then see a play you wish you could see 10 more times? While also knowing there’s a breakout session happening at the exact same time that you can’t be at, because you are having a world-changing time WHERE YOU ARE CURRENTLY AT?

And so I’m just. So happy that these virtual spaces exist to bring us together and remind me that not all meetings can be emails. SOME CAN. I will die on that hill. BUT. Sometimes you need to laugh and cry and see folks’ faces and be reminded that tons of people all over the world are breathing and feeling just like you do. And by you I mean lil ol me.


a smiling woman with red glasses wearing a white shirt and black sweater against a blue background

Crystal Marie Stewart is originally from South Carolina and recently graduated with her MFA in Acting from the University of Iowa. Some favorite roles include KarenJune Sanchez in Sonnets for an Old Century, Rachel Jackson in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Paulina in The Winter's Tale, and Berdine in Psycho Beach Party - but she has a particular soft spot for creating new work. She is currently the NNPN Producer in Residence at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City, Iowa.

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