Networking 2: Revenge of the Network

My second networking experience was much better than my first. For one thing, I was in a much more familiar environment, a theatre festival. This networking experience took place at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I had the opportunity to go last year, but at the time I couldn’t afford it, and I didn’t see the benefit of going. This time around I was accompanied by some of my cast mates from Into the Woods.
I had the opportunity to attend several workshops, but one stood out to me.
The workshop was called “Fostering Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Theatre”. I learned a lot of cool things, but since this is about networking, I’ll speak more on that.
I’m typically not one to approach people after a workshop or guest lecture- I get intimidated around smart and talented people and I feel like if I ask them questions or thank them, I’m wasting their time or being annoying. But this time was different. I was so moved by Elena Cobas’s workshop that I just HAD to talk to her. She talked about how few theatre directors of color there are in this country, how less than 1% of playwrights were women of color. And she showed us her research, all from reputable sources. These are issues that I get super upset about and talk endlessly on, and every time I have tried to have a discussion about it in the past, I’ve been dismissed or told that it didn’t really feel like it was a discussion we should be having. So when Elena started speaking just as passionately as I do to (except unlike me, she was composed and approached topics with logic and reason rather than the emotional tear-inducing approach I usually go with) all my nerves went out the window. Every time she brought up a new topic of discussion, I was the first person to raise my hand. I didn’t hesitate, I wasn’t shy or reserved like I usually was. There was no reason for it. I wanted to learn everything that I could. And after the workshop was over, I did something that really surprised me. I walked up to Elena and thanked her. I told her that I appreciated everything she shared with us, and she emailed me a link to the documents from the presentation. We kept talking about how important it is to have these kinds of conversations with different people. She gave me her business card, and I if I had had one, I think that at that moment I would have been bold enough to give her mine. I thanked her one last time, and then as I was leaving the workshop, I thanked a girl who attended the workshop who I thought had a lot of valuable things to say. We talked about how we absolutely loved the experience, and we exchanged emails.
While it may seem like the networking I did was very small, (after all, I only got two emails and a business card) it was a very big step forward for me. A few months ago I wouldn’t have had the courage to do something as simple as thank someone for the workshop. I think this was a little easier than the art gallery because we were all actively engaging in a discussion; we weren’t trying to force one out of the blue. I also felt like I knew what I was talking about, so I wasn’t as shy when it came to expressing my opinion in front of twenty strangers. This was a very positive experience, and I am proud of myself for moving a tiny inch forward. I don’t feel as intimidated by events where I am in a room full of strangers. After all, there’s something that brought us all to this event, right? Whether it’s art, theatre, culture, whatever- there’s something bringing us together. There is some kind of common ground, and that’s a great starting place for conversation.

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