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Thought Leader Of The Week: Tony Hagopian, URTA Executive Director

Tony Hagopian stepped into the role of executive director for URTA (University Resident Theatre Association) in April 2018, when former executive director Scott Steele lost his battle with cancer. Hagopian joined URTA in 2012, where he served as business and communications director, doubling the size of the Artist Engagement Service, launching new initiatives such as the URTA Candidate Awards, and negotiating URTA's collective bargaining with Actors' Equity Association. Live Design caught up with Hagopian during URTA’s Design/Tech interviews in Chicago, January 22-25, 2020, to chat about his role and goals for the organization, which will hold its second annual POP-UP URTAs at LDI2020 in October in Las Vegas.

Live Design: What was your career path to executive director of URTA?

Tony Hagopian: In a way, I’ve taken an unconventional path to get here, but at the same time, it seems like the most natural path imaginable. My entry into the theatre world came as a young performer at an URTA-contract theatre in the town where I grew up. After college, I did the URTA Auditions and got my MFA from Temple University. I was an actor and acting teacher for 20 years before transitioning off the stage to administration and producing. When a management position at URTA opened up, it was a perfect fit. That was nearly eight years ago. Now I’m in my second year as executive director, and I feel like I’m doing the job that my whole life was leading to.

LD: What is URTA's role in the resident theatre world?

TH: URTA plays a number of vital roles with resident theatres. The collectively bargained AEA-URTA Agreement is in use by dozens of resident theatres associated with universities, and accounts for about 2,000 Equity work weeks, and over $2M in actor and stage manager earnings annually. It enriches the training of students by letting them perform alongside professional artists and work toward their union membership.

Our paymaster service is also a critical resource for many theatres, which are resident at universities, and others. It supports hundreds of productions every year, paying more than $2.5M in wages and benefits to more than 700 actors, designers, directors, stage managers, technicians, and administrators.

And of course, the resident theatres across the country are stocked with graduates and faculty of URTA member programs. They’re really the lifeblood of the resident theatre world.

LD: How can URTA help educators and students to reach their own goals?

TH: One of the great things about the URTA Auditions & Interviews (the “URTAs”) is that we help artists find the right training program. Training is the underpinning of a long career as a theatre artist, but there is an extremely diverse array of programs out there to choose from, and it’s important to find the one that’s best for you. The “URTAs” process really helps facilitate that.

It helps faculty recruiters in the same way—finding the students that are best suited for their particular training program.

LD: What is URTA’s position on diversity and any current actions?

TH: URTA believes the values of applied efforts in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion in our studios, theaters and workspaces, is essential at every level of our practice both as educators and theatre-makers.

We have added information on EDI to the materials which universities must submit to apply for new or renewed membership in URTA, and we are working to make the URTA Auditions & Interviews even more accessible to candidates across demographics through various registration awards and fee waivers. A dedicated EDI committee on our board of directors continues to investigate what resources URTA might provide its members and others to succeed in these applied efforts.

You can read our statement on equity, diversity, and inclusion here:

LD: What are your five-year goals for the organization?

TH: Expanding our programs and services to more types of professional training programs beyond the MFA.

I would like to further enrich the “URTAs” for candidates with more on-site programming during the audition and interview event. Our Pop-Up URTAs at LDI last year was incredibly immersive for the candidates, who got to attend one of the largest theatrical trade shows in the nation while they were scouted by graduate schools; a one-of-a-kind experience. I’d like to continue to expand access to the URTAs, through sponsorships and other means.

I’d like to find more ways to help emerging artists navigate the transition from training to the profession.

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