10 Sotheby's Institute of Art-LA students, 4 lecture presentations, 2 performance experiences. MA Arts Management students, Olivia Schafer and Cailin Nolte, offer a behind the scenes glimpse at one of LA's leading performing arts centers.
Ten of us arrived in the theater parking lot on a Friday morning expecting it to be empty. It was unseasonably warm and sunny for an October morning by the beach. This was the first day of a month-long intensive offered by The Broad Stage through Sotheby’s Institute of Art-LA. The Broad Stage is a performing arts mecca in Santa Monica that presents local and global artists working in dance, theater, music, and spoken word. In our first semester of graduate studies, we were eager to explore the inner workings of a performing arts center and learn more about performing arts production and presenting.
That morning, we were greeted by a cacophony of sounds, a flurry of movement, and an undeniable sense that something exciting was about to happen. Hundreds of elementary school students unloaded from buses and lined up along the shaded entrance to the main stage theater. An efficient team of production staff armed with clipboards and headsets ushered these youngsters into the air-conditioned theater. While we collected permission slips, and directed children to bathrooms, we got a taste of the preparation needed to keep kids safe, engaged, and eager to learn through the arts.
Seated in the mezzanine, we witnessed the sea of squirming elementary students below us transform into a rapt audience at the call of a soulful trombone. Jazzy Ash and the Leaping Lizards had arrived on stage. Jazzy Ash and her band perform Louisiana Jazz to elementary students across the country in participatory arts experiences for children. Following the show, ushers strategically guided the students out by class and loaded them back onto buses while their colleagues prepped the theater for their evening show for adult audiences.
Session 1: Setting the Stage With Curriculum
The Broad Stage has developed robust programming for public school students across the county and encourages community building through their Family Circle Program. We spoke with the Education Team and we were surprised to learn just how much of a role curriculum development plays in curating, presenting, and programming a show. As educators ourselves, we have both written arts education curriculum and were intrigued to see this through the lens of a professional theater. This opened our eyes to the possibilities of community engagement. We can both bring the arts to students in classrooms, and bring students to the arts in theaters.
Session 2: Programming with Joy
Carolyn Elliott stood in front of us and enthusiastically described the direction of The Broad Stage's programing, as envisioned by Director Jane Deknatel.
“Elevate the core,” Carolyn said. “Is what you are putting on the stage expressive of your true values?”
She posed this question before launching into a transparent discussion about the obstacles the organizations faces daily to fill all the seats of a 500-seat theater. As Director of Programming, Carolyn is cognizant of changing trends in the industry and works in concert with Jane to ensure both artistry and diversity in everything they put on the stage. She shared their innovative methods for balancing the season with both smaller and larger productions, as well as creating new subscription models. Carolyn’s joyful passion and the theme of collaboration resonated strongly with us. Her energy and solution seeking inspired us to think critically about our future careers in arts management.
Session 3: “Butts in seats. Smiles on faces.”
The Marketing and Development Team described their process for setting the theater up for success. They often plan two or three seasons at a time. Much to our millennial surprise, digital marketing, while cheapest, wasn’t always the most effective. In sound bite form: traditional advertisement works.
In a demonstration of teamwork, we were invited to practice these creative marketing and communications skills by designing a marketing campaign for an upcoming show!
Afterwards, we split into two groups, sat across the long conference table, and pitched our campaigns shark tank style. About halfway through our brainstorming session, Mark Rice, the Director of Marketing, threw a curveball altering the parameters of the campaign. With the two groups yelling over each other, we were challenged to think outside of the box and adapt to a real-life dilemma.
Session 4: Feed People
Feed the volunteers. Feed audience members with a reception. Feed the community with knowledge. Feed organizations with values and ethics. Anyway you slice it, feeding people is part and parcel of a successful presenting business. We were startled by the uphill economic battles many nonprofits have to surmount to keep themselves from starving. Many die in the first, third, or fifth year. For most nonprofits, feeding others is how they keep themselves alive.
After the production presentation about organizational survival, we got to see the team in action as they conducted the behind the scenes set-up of the blackbox theater for Impro Theatre’s Horror UnScripted. The up-close-and personal performance by a small troupe of hyperbolic and gregarious actors left us all spooked and impressed.
From large-scale main stage theater to an intimate black box space, The Broad Stage is a model for education, performance and community outreach. Ilaan Mazzini, Director of Education and Community Programs at the Broad Stage, said about the intensive, “I really enjoyed meeting people interested in the same profession that I’ve been passionate about and helping facilitate an experience so that they can make decisions about the future.” The Broad Stage’s unique relationship to Sotheby’s Institute of Art-LA has empowered us to deepen our connection to the community, delve into the mechanics of running a theater, and identify our own place in the field. We’re thankful for the opportunity to network, grow, and imagine new ways of managing the performing arts.
Written by Olivia Schafer and Cailin Nolte; Edited by Dr. Amy Shimshon-Santo
Olivia Schafer is a dancer, choreographer, and producer with her sights set on performing arts management. After receiving Bachelor’s degrees in World Arts and Cultures/Dance and Communication Studies from UCLA, she is pursuing her Master’s in Arts Management at Sotheby’s Institute of Art-LA at Claremont Graduate University.
Cailin Nolte was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She studied Music Education and String Pedagogy at the University of New Mexico and Boston University. Well versed in designing curriculum and coordinating events, Cailin is currently pursuing her Master’s in Arts Management at Sotheby's Institute of Art-LA.
This experience was made possible with the generous support of The Broad Stage’s senior staff, including: Ernest Figueroa (Producer), Carolyn Elliott (Director of Programming), Eric Bloom (Director of Artistic Planning), David Coscia (Director of Donor Relations), Mark A. Rice (Director of Marketing & Communications), Ilaan Egeland Mazzini (Director of Education & Community Programs).