What is innovation? This concept is a topic that is on my mind alot lately, for several reasons. First, USITT is right around the corner and this year will display their biannual tech expo. Secondly, one of the current things I am learning about is innovation in non-profits. And, third, I recently completed what the University of Missouri - Kansas City calls "Entrepreneurship Bootcamp" - a 4 week long intensive program where you learn global aspects of starting your own business including law and financials and many other aspects. The culmination of the month-long experience is to compete in an idea competition over the development of an innovative product in which the successful team takes a way a grand, and the potential for funding offers to develop the product or service outside of the program. Nevertheless this loops back to USITT as some of the student chapters that also offer idea competitions which revolve around theatrical uses, and ultimately ties back into the Tech Expo- which showcases technical theatre innovation.
So what is innovation? What is the qualifiers? can the definition depend? Can it be innovative in a specific location, but within the industry as a whole? Theatre is innovative by default - how then, do you make it more so? I was looking at a vitae the other day that listed the development of a stagecraft class in a certain college as an innovation in teaching. While the class may have been an innovation for that specific college, introducing a stagecraft class now would be hardly innovative in the industry, or in colleges globally. Furthermore innovation in theatre is complicated by the fact that often the technique or method is being used in another industry prior to use in theatre. So it is innovative in the transfer of technique but not always in the development of the original technology.
Another challenge to innovation in technical theatre (especially props, paints and scenery) is tracking the history. Our innovation is constrained by show choice, style of production, and design choices, however, those could be innovators as well. Communicating what worked, and what didn't over time is very difficult in a theatre setting. We have several theatre magazines that can help track these ideas (TD&T, Stage Directions, Stagecraft list serve, Theatre Crafts, Yale Tech Briefs). Each of these (and other publications) have various advantages and disadvantages. Each of these usually focuses on a success, which is good, however, there are many factors that created that success that are under the surface. particular design choices, theatre setting, budgets, labor, available resources in the shop, time are just a few variables that mean that even these published successful ideas often requires adjustment.
The questions becomes is where does innovation start. How much does a process have to change to be innovative? How innovative must an idea/technique/object have to be to be acclaimed as innovative? Are their different levels that define innovation: is it different for individuals than for institutions? How can innovation be bench marked? How do you determine if it is innovative (research?). What quality standard must be made for an innovation?
There aren't easy answers, but I think that for an industry that is constantly evolving, they are necesssary questions to ask.