More than 100 theatre alumni and current students gathered on Zoom last week for the first FIU Theatre Alumni Conference. The three-day event featured seven career-focused panels on topics ranging from building sustainable careers to developing new work.
The conference was organized by members of the Department of Theatre’s Alumni Advisory Board as a way of furthering their mission to strengthen the alumni network and create bridges among alumni from different eras of FIU Theatre.
Members of the Board led the panel discussions which featured more than 25 of FIU Theatre’s successful alumni.
The conference kicked off on Thursday night with a focus on building sustainable careers.
Danny Pino, who has built a successful career in television, film and theatre over two decades was a panelist on the Early Career and Beyond (Performance) panel. He has been a star on hit TV shows like Cold Case and Law & Order: SVU, and is currently on the FX series Mayans M.C.
He and his fellow panelists shared stories about the early days of their career and gave advice to young alumni on things like signing with agents, finding a work/life balance and building meaningful relationships in the industry.
“This is a relationship business just like every business is,” said Pino. “Those relationships extend beyond managers and agents. Those relationships extend to casts, directors, lighting designers, costume designers, whatever it is.”
He went on to clarify the kind of networking that actually works: when you are truly collaborating with and respecting other artists.
“You network because of the craft,” he continued. “You’re giving your all to something together and that’s the kind of networking that’s truly favorable.”
Friday night was all about creating new work. The night featured panels on new play development and producing.
France-Luce Benson, one of the panelists on the New Play Development panel, is an award-winning playwright who was recently named “Someone to Watch” by American Theatre magazine. When asked about her writing process and whether she waits for inspiration to hit, she spoke about self-discipline and dedication to the craft.
“I write every day,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in you have to do the thing.”
But what about when you’re stuck and dealing with writer’s block?
“I keep a resistance page,” she shared. “When I sit down to write, I don’t stop. If I get stuck, I just write through it.”
Friday night concluded with a special performance by Villain Theater, a Miami improv comedy theater who has taken their shows online during the quarantine. Their performance featured interactive improv games with a cast of ten FIU alumni.
Saturday afternoon featured one panel for theatre teachers and another panel on design and tech unions.
The teaching panel included high school theatre teachers like Nicky Quintana, who currently teaches drama at Miami Arts Studio at Zelda Glazer 6-12, and is also the President for the Florida Association for Theatre Education.
She and her fellow panelists shared their stories of how they got into teaching, how they still find time to work on professional theatrical projects, and how they keep things fresh in the classroom.
“It took a while to get into the groove,” Quintana said as she reflected on her 20-year career. “Now having put in this many years I feel like there are certain things that I do really well and there are things that I’m continuously growing and reshaping. My lesson plans change every single year based on the feedback from the year before. I think as a teacher I haven’t stopped growing and I welcome the growth.”
Although the panels were free, the conference also served as a benefit for the FIU Theatre Alumni Scholarship Endowment Fund. The fund was created by the alumni of the theatre department as a legacy to support the future generations of FIU Theatre artists.
To donate to the endowment fund, visit CARTA’s Give Now page. Select the Theatre Alumni Scholarship Endowment from the designation menu.