Roll Out the Welcome Wagon

Posted October 23, 2018

Nicole Banner Two

By Allison Considine for American Theatre Magazine | October 23, 2018

How to ensure that an out-of-town artist will be able to do their best work on your turf? For starters, keep them warm, dry, and fed. That tall task falls to the company management team, who serve as travel agents, concierges, chauffeurs, therapists, event planners, landlords, interior decorators, medical advisors, and more. It’s company management’s job to make sure every aspect of an artist’s stay—as long as 10 months at a stretch at some theatres—is comfortable and safe.

Company management works to secure and prepare housing long before artists arrive. Nicole Tilford, company manager at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisc., schedules calls a few weeks prior to arrival to introduce the remote town and give virtual tours of living quarters. Jean-Paul Gressieux, company manager of California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre, decorates the theatre’s nearby rental units with a “minimal chic aesthetic,” giving artists a blank slate to make the space their own. Max Schwager, company manager of D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, updates a “Guide to Life” booklet with resources, maps, and information for the city. He also distributes “Bard Baskets” of wine and snacks, donated by volunteers.

“This is not a business trip,” says Hillary Martin, company manager at Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis. “This is real work, and it can be very hard work—we want their focus to be on that. So how can we help them transfer their lives to Indianapolis smoothly?”

Company management doesn’t just build and stock the welcome wagon; they also drive it, shuttling artists among airports and train stations, and scheduling other transportation. For the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville, company manager Dot King and this year’s apprentice Ben Otten will oversee 450 trips. At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., the company management team oversees multiple trips for more than 1,000 artists over the course of a season, which is why they’ve created their own software system, Season Central, to handle it all.

The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., enlists several drivers to drive a fleet of large vans for the daily shuttle route. But for theatres in urban areas, ride-sharing apps have changed the game, with Uber and Lyft company accounts alleviating some of the back-and-forth driving and the need for reimbursements. For mass departures, STC’s Schwager gathers departing cast and crew in the lobby for a communal send-off before everyone climbs into different cars. At APT, Tilford transports actors from back-to-back rehearsals via a golf cart.

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