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Chatting with AACT's Membership Director, Cran Dodds: Staying Connected in the Community Theatre

AACT (American Association of Community Theatre) connects America's theatres; provides expertise, assistance, networking & support to help create the best possible experience—for participants & audiences alike. AACT's mission was a huge inspiration for California Community Theatre, and in fact, the specific idea for the site came from a discussion with a fellow AACT member about how to serve the community theatres in California. Many of you are AACT members- thank you! - and are familiar with some of the benefits and discounts membership to the national organization provides. But did you know about AACT's theatre festivals? These 'Fests' are part of a multi-year process that culminates in a national festival, held in odd-numbered years. Community theatres from AACT's 10 regions enter productions for adjudication and advancement from state to regional to national level.

Two California community theaters (Chino Community Theatre and New West Group) have won AACT Fest National awards in the last ten years!

Cran Dodds is AACT's Membership Engagement Director, and specializes in engaging with AACT programs and benefits, and connecting to the national network of America's theatres and theatre lovers. I had a chance to interview Cran about keeping people connected, his role at AACT, and about the importance of resources like AACT for community theatres.

What do you think is so valuable about connecting people doing the same thing but in different geographic areas?

Theatre is Theatre, audiences are audiences, marketing is marketing, Boards are Boards on the East coast as well as the West coast. We all share the same obstacles, but perhaps have found different solutions to those problems. It is always beneficial to brainstorm and network with others in our profession. Recently I gathered a large amount of testimonials for our magazine, SPOTLIGHT. I asked what the benefits were of being a member of AACT. The majority said Networking.

And, what are the challenges in that?

Everyone is so busy! Encouraging those in theatre to slow down and share a dialogue with others. To get all of us to open up with their situation and share the highlights and the valleys and help others with these.

I recently worked on a feature about 'busyness' in community theatre; people seem busier than ever these days, and invovlement in community theatre is a huge part of that. What have you discovered about this topic in working with member organizations or individuals? Do you have challenges engaging current members or finding new ones because people have such full theatre plates?

In a word, YES! Encouraging people in theatre to find the time to talk, share, learn is many times the hardest thing I do. I worked in Community Theatre for many years and I know exactly what all these people are going through. Yes, it is a world of “Busyness”.

California has a great deal of community theatres, some of whom are AACT members. You and I have a similar goal in hoping to connect with each one of those theatres and ensuring they are aware of our two distinct resources. Do you have plans to reach out or engaging specifically with California theatres?

In my position, I am encouraged to do quite a bit of travel. My goal is to visit as many theatres as possible, NOT as a sales purpose, but as a face of AACT helping theatres to thrive. I go to many conferences where groups of theatres are gathered and listen to the wonderful things they are doing and share those with other theatres. I also listen to the problems they may have and help by offering possible solutions. I would love to visit California and I encourage you to call as many theatres (Members and Non-Members) together for a feast of food, fun, and exchange of successes and dilemmas and invite ME of course!

You've worked extensively with Texas theatres and organizations. It seems as though Texas and California are similar in geographic size and scope, and that this can be a challenge in trying to connect such a large group of people spread out so far across a state. How has Texas or TNT (Texas Nonprofit Theatres) overcome this challenge and worked toward bringing folks together?

A number of years ago, Texas broke into four geographical, or Quads, in order to make this very large state manageable. Each Quad has a Quad leader and holds meetings periodically. These leaders are also invited to all conferences and board meetings so that the TNT Board has an insight of theatre across our state. That is the model I am using for AACT and my Member Services Team. All the members of this group inform me of what is occurring in their State in terms of new theatres opening, new hires, exciting shows as well as participating once a year in our membership campaign. This model seems to work to bring everyone together and become aware of each other. Twice a year the Team meets for the Winter and Summer meetings and we have an open forum concerning the task of bringing us all together across the nation.

What is your day like at AACT? What do you love about your job with AACT?

Each day can be quite different from the next. I have meetings, connect with members and non-members via email and phone calls, field phone questions from theatres across the country concerning everything from saving a historic structure to establishing dressing rooms for youth vs adults, writing for our magazine SPOTLIGHT, networking with my Membership team, and on and on

What do you think AACT does best for its members? What is a plan or benefit not yet in action but that you would love to see for members?

I feel AACT establishes a networking opportunity for theatres across the country with different issues, different budgets and different dynamics. Connecting these theatres online or through conferences helps so many with the issues that concerns them most and realizing solutions can certainly be found. The two items I am most interested in is establishing a Sister Theatre program allowing two theatres in close geographic locations to work together helping solve issues and exchanging shows and sharing audiences. This is a thought in its early stages. My other area of interest is expanding our Youth Program to include a stand alone annual Youth Theatre Festival and increase the number of workshops for Youth and Adults into a more regional opportunity thereby reducing long distance travel and allowing theatres in the same region to work together.

Cran received a BA in Theatre from theUniversity of North Texas and has performed in summer stock, toured with dinner theatre productions, and managed the Denton (TX) Community Theatre. He has also been the Artistic Director of the Warehouse Theatre in Corsicana (TX), a company member of Casa Manana in Fort Worth (TX), and was Director of the National Touring Theatre, Bravvo Productions for ten years. Cran isa Past President of Texas Nonprofit Theatres and currently serves as a board member for the organization, and has served as a Theatre Review panelist with the Texas Commission of the Arts. Cran was a Texas high school theatre teacher as well as a theatre teacher at one of the highest-ranking International schools in Cairo, Egypt. Cran is an adjudicator, having judged state theatre festivals in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. He has also adjudicated the Texas Youth Festival on many occasions. Cranston is married to playwright/teacher Frances Seidensticker and is the proud father of a son and two daughters. AACT encourages anyone to ask Cran how to engage with AACT programs and benefits, and connect to the national network of America's theatres and theatre lovers. AACT provides networking, resources, and support for America’s theatres. AACT represents the interests of more than 7,000 theatres across the United States and its territories, as well as theatre companies with the U.S. Armed Services overseas.


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