"Careers Backstage: An Overview of Job Opportunities Within Theatres," the second in a series of four free career seminars sponsored by the New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting and the Living Room for Artists/Summer Play Festival, was held April 8 and attracted a large audience. The seminars are intended "to educate New Yorkers about the diverse job roles in the industry and connect them with resources, organizations, and opportunities in the field," according to a press release.
Katherine Oliver, the city's film commissioner, moderated the panel, which featured Amy Jacobs, a general manager with Nina Lannan Associates (The Color Purple, Mamma Mia!, Thoroughly Modern Millie); Michael Hurst, managing director of the Public Theater; Gene O'Donovan, president of Aurora Productions, a production management company, and founder and former president of Hudson Scenic Studio; and William Russo, general manager of Playwrights Horizons. The panelists discussed their backgrounds, how they got started in theatre management, and the realities of the business, followed by a question-and-answer session.
O'Donovan, the only production manager on the panel, began his career when someone asked him to load some trucks; that led to a job in a scene shop, where he became foreman. In 1980 he opened Hudson Scenic Studio, which has fabricated scenery for some 300 Broadway productions; he later sold the company and moved into production management. Jacobs began as a stage manager, but after working as an intern with a general management office, she chose to stay in that field. Russo was associate general manager at Manhattan Theatre Club before moving to Playwrights Horizons. Hurst attended Rutgers University as a theatre and communications major and later interned at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse. He wanted very much to work at the Public, where he began his climb up the ladder with a part-time job in the box office.
All four agreed that an internship was the way to begin a career in theatre management. ArtSearch, a service of Theatre Communications Group, was recommended as a good source for internships, along with theatre company websites. The panelists said that most people entering the theatre industry today do so straight out of college, where they've already studied stage management or trained as a stage technician. O'Donovan, who also teaches, said he tells students who are planning to intern to appreciate the experience of those they'll be working with, many of whom won't have a college degree.
The panel explained that employers look for enthusiasm and a willingness to work long hours. They suggested that a short, engaging cover letter — with proper grammar — is a plus when applying for an internship, adding that the letter should also demonstrate that the applicant has researched the company he or she is applying to.
As there are a limited number of theatres, the panelists emphasized, there are also a limited number of behind-the-scenes theatre jobs. The pay varies, with Off-Broadway nonprofit companies paying less than commercial productions. Depending on the job, nonunion positions start at around $25,000-$30,000 a year. After 10 years, one could move up to the position of company manager on a union show and make $80,000-$90,000, working 80 to 100 hours a week during the theatre season.
Asked what some of the perks are, the response was: "Doing what we like to do."
For information on future career seminars sponsored by the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, go to www.nyc.gov/film.