As executive director of the University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA) since 1994, Scott L. Steele has also been involved with theatre production in many capacities. Before joining U/RTA, he was general manger of The Williamstown Theatre Festival and The Acting Company. He has also served as deputy director of The Lincoln Center Theatre Company, general manager of American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA), and producer of Medusa, Poor Little Lambs, and Stephen King's Ghost Stories. He has worked on various television projects as associate producer/production manager. Steele also consults for numerous organizations and is a member of the National Theatre Conference.
The University/Resident Theatre Association, or U/RTA, has been around since 1969. What is U/RTA's main mission these days?
U/RTA's programming has really expanded over the last eight years. The annual portfolio review, the audition and interview process, helping schools to recruit top-notch candidates, and moving those candidates toward first-rate professional training programs?it's all still in place, and stronger than ever. These days, however, U/RTA is engaged in a major new initiative to nurture and strengthen connections between undergraduate education and graduate training, and to sustain that connection from graduate training into the profession. We're helping in the development of new theatre companies on campuses and off, and helping to develop new partnerships between schools and existing theatres. Moreover, I think we're actually helping to build new audiences through these expanded efforts.
In design and technology, it's much the same: helping the qualified candidate move from that sophomore class in design — that “I want to do this” experience — into MFA training and then right on into the profession itself. It'll never be an easy trip, but our job is to provide the signposts, guidance, and support for those who decide to take the plunge.
How did you become involved with U/RTA?
Well, I was feeling pretty burned-out after 18 years in theatre general management. I'd gone from Off Broadway to Broadway to Lincoln Center to Williamstown to a number of other companies. Just ask any executive director, and you'll find a former general manager, stage manager, actor, or playwright. Well, here was a service organization with a bunch of excellent troublemakers on its board hoping to make U/RTA much more than what it had been: grow, or die. Their drive seemed to match my passion for finding a new edge in the profession, so here I am.
What's the biggest challenge facing U/RTA right now?
Naturally, all of the new programs we're introducing require seed funding — our member schools and associate theatres need public support ?and there's nothing more challenging than entering the battle for individual, corporate, and foundation funding. At the moment, U/RTA is developing plans for short, intensive summer training programs for undergraduate theatre teachers looking to polish their skills. We're researching and publishing proven guidelines for schools and theatres seeking important new partnerships. We're examining the Internet potential for effectively delivering a school's specific resource to a national classroom. All of these plans will require early financial support. We also need to address the near absence of Black and Latino professionals in design and technology; differing American cultural experiences and energies can only multiply the creative processes inherent in these fields.
What are some of U/RTA's accomplishments of which you're most proud?
Easy — growing our Contract Management Program 300%. The CMP helps schools, theatres, and organizations like The Smithsonian Institute employ professional artists for a production or an entire season. It's making a lot of good theatre possible all over the place. Also inventing the assistant designer contract for LORT theatres, which takes management hassles off the designers' shoulders and really promotes the early employment of these young professionals. Then there's the U/RTA Panelist Bureau, which sends teacher-artists to conferences and to do workshops on campuses. These and other programs are establishing stronger connections between undergraduate education and graduate training and linking that world of graduate training with the professional theatre itself or, really, all the performing arts industries.
What would you like people to know about U/RTA that they might not already know?
Too many people have blinders on when it comes to training for a professional career. Wake up! Take a look at U/RTA's membership: 34 exceptional, diverse training programs; 15 associated professional theatres; exceptional opportunities for graduate training in design, technology, acting, directing; and, of course, the incalculable advantages of multiple networking opportunities into the profession.
If you're thinking about training as a designer or technician, or know someone who is, then www.urta.com is definitely the place to start.