USITT has cancelled its upcoming 60th Annual Conference & Stage Expo, slated to be held in early April in Houston, in the wake of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. David Grindle, the organization’s executive director, made the announcement late yesterday.
“Making this decision has been agonizing,” says David Grindle, the organization’s executive director. “This is an unprecedented move for us, but our Board of Directors feels strongly that the health and safety of our members must always be our number one priority. With more cases of COVID-19 expected in the U.S. and with no vaccines or approved medications to treat it, coupled with the World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic on Wednesday, the Board chose to act swiftly to protect our members and Conference guests.”
With the emerging global threat of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, many of the 320 companies who had contracted to exhibit had notified the Institute that they would not be attending this year’s Stage Expo in the last several days, primarily due to company-wide travel restrictions.
Approximately 6,000 people were expected for the Houston event, and Institute also had planned to celebrate its 60th anniversary with a party closing the Conference. “We will find some other way to mark the occasion,” Grindle says.
USITT relies heavily on the income from the Annual Conference & Stage Expo, according to Institute Treasurer Kim Scott. While the enormity of this cancellation is still being calculated, Scott expects the impact to the non-profit association’s bottom line will be “catastrophic.”
Grindle reports that USITT National Office staff is working with Conference presenters to bring a portion of the Conference online, likely through webinars, so that some of the valuable education planned for the event can be retrieved. Plan formulation is underway and will be announced shortly.
The New World Rigging Symposium, held in conjunction with the Conference and co-presented with ESTA, has also been cancelled. For those who had already registered for either event, USITT states that it will reach out to registrants shortly regarding recompense.
“All of us in the Institute work on events that bring together groups of people,” notes USITT president Dan Culhane. “As such, our industry needs to be especially vigilant in the wake of this threat and mindful that our people — kept safe and healthy — are our most important asset.”