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James Rhee.

TCG Conference Announces James Rhee as Plenary Speaker

The Ashley Stewart CEO and best-selling author will speak on business models for change at the national convening in Chicago in June.

NEW YORK CITY: Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for theatre and the publisher of American Theatre, has announced that James Rhee, an acclaimed clothing industry CEO, entrepreneurship professor, and bestselling author, will be a plenary speaker at the 33rd TCG National Conference. Held in Chicago June 20-22, in association with the League of Chicago Theatres, the TCG National Conference is expected to draw between 700 to 1,000-plus theatre professionals from around the world. Rhee serves as the Johnson Chair of Entrepreneurship and senior advisor to the Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership at Howard University.

Rhee will discuss his new book, red helicopter, with TCG’s chief executive officer, Karena Fiorenza. Their conversation will draw on Rhee’s human-centered framework for business and personal achievement to address the challenges—and opportunities—currently facing theatres and theatre workers. red helicopter debuted at No. 1 on USA Today‘s nonfiction best-selling booklist.

“I’m so thrilled that James accepted our invitation to share his story and insights into successful change management,” said Fiorenza in a statement. “In this time of both continued upheaval and chrysalis, his experience at Ashley Stewart and beyond are powerful examples of how theatres can build cultures of compassion, goodwill, and strategic business acumen. As James puts it in his beautiful new book, combining the power of kindness with a little math can inspire a more intuitive and human-centered approach to change. He is the embodiment of applying joyful rigor to all that he does—a trait to which we should all aspire. James is also just a fun and incredible human, so my hope is that our conversation will not only spark moments of ‘aha!’ and self-examination in your professional practices, but also spark joy, love, and laughter in your soul.”

“I have no doubt that James and Karena’s conversation will provide both inspiration and practical approaches to change management for our attendees,” said LaTeshia Ellerson, chief growth officer, TCG, in a statement. “We’re proud to partner with the League of Chicago Theatres in featuring a wide range of programming, from plenaries with thought leaders like James to skills-building sessions to exciting performance showcasing Chicago’s vibrant theatre scene.”

red helicopter uses the story of how Rhee received a toy red helicopter in kindergarten after a simple act of kindness—the innocent generosity of sharing his lunch—to show how Rhee developed a human-centered framework for business and personal success. Rhee, a Korean American man with no prior background as CEO, unexpectedly took the helm of Ashley Stewart, an iconic company predominantly employing and serving Black women. The world bet against him, but Rhee trusted his instincts to identify, measure, and unleash the intangible goodwill at the company’s core, a decision which ultimately multiplied its fortunes several times over.

Through its convenings, TCG continues to serve as a connector for theatres to share best practices and new business and artistic models with one another. TCG presents plenary speakers, breakout sessions, workshops, and performances throughout the National Conference. Past keynote speakers have included leading artists and thinkers such as Julian Brave NoiseCat, Billy Porter, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Edwidge Danticat, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jer Thorp, Anand Giridharadas, Samantha Power, Stephanie Ybarra, Mona Eltahawy, Jeff Chang, Jane McGonigal, and Baratunde Thurston. In December 2022, TCG announced a return to a biennial National Conference schedule, with 2023 as the first off year. After virtual conferences in 2020 and 2021, TCG held its first hybrid National Conference in Pittsburgh in 2022. The 2024 Conference will build on the learnings of 2022 and include a virtual attendance option in addition to the in-person experience.

The 2024 TCG National Conference in Chicago is supported by the following growing list of funders and sponsors (in alphabetical order): Arts Consulting Group, BroadwayWorld, Charcoalblue, The City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), CueBox, Doris Duke Foundation, Edelstein Family Foundation, Edgerton Foundation, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, Illinois Arts Council, InstantEncore, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, National Museum of Mexican Art, New York State Council on the Arts, Opportunity Fund, Play On Shakespeare, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Schuler Shook, The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, Spektrix, Walder Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, and Walt Disney Imagineering. If you are interested in supporting TCG and the National Conference, please contact Danika Tablante, Institutional Philanthropy Manager, at

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