Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Presenting at F2F 2013 Sarah Abrams

Presenting at F2F 2013
Sarah Abrams

When I was approached by Professor Kavanakudiyil to collaborate with her and fellow graduate student Jono Waldman on a session proposal for the 2013 Face to Face conference, I experienced a mix of emotions.  The first emotion was pure joy; I was thrilled of course!  However, part of the excitement I felt soon became intensified by my nervousness to take on such a big role.  I had never led a session before and co-presenting at a conference filled with some of the most prolific and experienced professionals in arts education would be both an honor and a new challenge.  I wasn’t sure if I felt established enough in my own practice to stand tall in front of so many others who had earned their stars and stripes over the years.  Thankfully, Sobha reminded us that bringing in fresh perspectives and coming from a place of sharing (and not proselytizing) is what F2F is all about: a meeting of the minds and a refresher/rejuvenator to practitioners new and vetted.
After some initial meetings to complete the session proposal concepts and language, Sobha submitted our forms and so began the waiting period to hear whether or not we would be continuing our journey.  A little over a month later, we learned the great news that our session proposal, “Civic Engagement and the Arts,” was accepted for Face to Face!  Within a few weeks after that, we learned that our submission to the national AATE conference had also been accepted.  Something that began as just a seed of an idea was now given the green light for full production!
From the get go, our roles were made very clear and Sobha provided substantial support and guidance throughout the planning process; knowing our individual and collective responsibilities was key to our success.   Sobha reminded us that we were there to support the work, provide testament of our experiences and to brainstorm the most effective ways to present and share the information.  This session was Sobha’s brainchild, but she modeled the concepts of Service Learning so elegantly, that we became empowered and connected through co-presenting her connections and findings.  Our brainstorming sessions were energizing and playful, acutely demonstrating how collaboration really does strengthen and deepen the work that we do as theatre professionals. 
There was a drive in the week before the conference to clarify and fine tune any and all aspects that might trip us up during the session, but just as all best laid plans go, there were some things that couldn’t be anticipated:  such as having over 100 people preregister for our session!  We learned two days before the conference of the wonderful support, but suddenly, this intimate sharing that we had envisioned had grown into a massive event.  We zipped around trying to make extra hand-out materials, getting the right doo-dads to connect the media and as we were moved from a classroom to the Great Hall (a cacophonous space filled with grandeur), we knew that the technology we were using had to work in a different setting than we had anticipated.  Not to mention the fact that we were possibly presenting in front of over 100 people!  We actually dissuaded other CCNY grad students from attending so we could cap our numbers; thankfully it worked, and we had closer to 60 or so participants at the event. 
The session itself was a joy to workshop!  The participants were generous and engaged, which allowed us to try some ideas that we had never had the opportunity to see in action.  As a co-presenter, it was a balancing act of being personable and professional; flexible, but on task.  However, there was also the fun fluidity of switching between the three of us and resting on the knowledge that Sobha would be our safety net if need be.  This was vital as the last question during our reflection was a curve ball that I couldn’t have anticipated.  Watching Sobha direct the conversation from a possibly awkward ending into an honest and direct finale was a great learning moment.  Also, reflecting on the session afterwards allowed us to clarify the concepts, further demonstrating how this kind of sharing enriches all constituents involved!
My take-aways from this experience are several:
1) If you have an idea - submit!  You can always work out the details later.
2) If you are nervous about presenting - submit!  You have the supportive community of CCNY to will help you along the way.  Presenting is a different skill and you will only get better with practice.
3) If you are nervous about presenting alone – submit!  You can always find fellow grad students who can support and strengthen your session.  In fact, you should make it a point to present with two or more as it will lighten the load and elevate the work.
Right now I am just feeling so grateful for this experience, looking forward to D.C. and hoping to support many more CCNY grad students presenting their sessions in the future! 
See you at next years Face to Face!

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