Shop Talk: APT's Development Team

Posted December 2, 2020

Dev Marquee

APT’s development staff is comprised of dedicated professionals who love theater, love APT, and love working with the donors and audience members who support the work we do here. 

You’ve probably seen them at a show, engaging with long-time patrons or introducing themselves to new ones. They’re the ambassadors of APT (and all pretty darn charming to boot). So we thought you might like to know a bit about how they got here, and a few of their favorite things about APT.

Our Development Staff includes Development Directors Michele Traband, who celebrated her 8th anniversary in September (“Best eight years of my professional life!”); Amy Mueller, who joined the team in August of 2018 (“It's hard to believe that it has only been a little over two years!”); and Sean Sobecki, who’s worked at APT for over four years now. (“I'm so grateful they took a chance on me as the summer marketing assistant in the summer of 2016”). The team is rounded out by APT’s Donor Relations Manager, Beatrice Kuenn, who started at APT in 2019 at the end of September.

What is your first memory of APT?
Amy: I distinctly remember coming to APT to see a dear friend, Kimberly Irion, in the 2003 production of The Tempest. This was my first trip to APT and Spring Green. I will never forget walking into the Hill Theatre and feeling like I had been transported. It was a windy summer night, and it seemed that the entire world just fell away as I took my seat. I had worked at several outdoor theatres, but APT felt different. It was magical, but at the same time, intensely professional and refined. The performances on stage were effortlessly clear and filled with heart, but were meticulous in their creation. It was a balance that I had never seen struck so perfectly at an outdoor theatre.

Michele: I came to APT for a show in the early 1990s, when I was working with the UW Milwaukee Theatre Program and we were considering producing an outdoor summer season. My first impression was one of simply being overwhelmed by the whole operation – from facilities to production. More recently, I remember going to see The Royal Family right after I’d been hired (but before I had started the job). I walked through the lobby and then sat in the audience, listening to all of the wonderful comments from patrons and felt like I had been blessed to land the best gig imaginable.

Sean: I happened upon APT when I was new to the Madison area and searching for jobs in the arts, so my very first memory is driving out to interview. But what I consider my first APT memory is the first company picnic I attended. The company picnic happens at the beginning of each season where all 200+ staff meet and introduce themselves to the group. I went to the picnic before my first official day of work and was awestruck. I pulled up to this place with no cell service and heard from so many people who were celebrating their 15th or 25th or 32nd season at APT. I knew I had fallen into a special place.

Beatrice: When I was 15 my aunt and uncle, who are huge APT fans, invited my family to go with them to see opening night of the 2012 production of Troilus and Cressida on the Hill. My mom thought that my siblings and I wouldn't understand the plot and printed off study guides on the Trojan War for us to read on our drive out to Spring Green, though I admit, I didn't have any interest in reading a study guide during my summer vacation. Up until that point I had very little interest in Shakespeare – I had read Romeo and Juliet in school and found it kind of dull. So this was my first experience with a professional Shakespeare production, and I understood every word. We were camping at Tower Hill State Park just down the road from APT, and I remember on the walk back to the park after the show we stopped and looked up at the stars. That was the first time I had seen so many stars in the sky.

Can you describe your role at APT? What does a Development Director/Donor Relations Manager do?
Amy: Development is really all about relationships. My role involves listening and learning - in terms of both APT and our audience. It is such a privilege to get to know our incredible community of donors; to hear their history with APT, their memories, and stories. And then, of course, keeping our donors up-to-date about APT’s vision, plans for programs, and needs. It is a joy to share what APT is working on and how donors can help our artistry, programming, and operations continue to evolve.

I also do quite a bit of grant writing. Right now, I am writing an extensive grant that asked about our cancelations due to COVID and how we were able to pivot. As I detailed out our "Out of the Woods" collaboration with PBS, the "If These Trees Could Talk" experience, our recently adopted Anti-Racism Vision and Action plan, it became crystal clear just how much we accomplished during this difficult year. That is all possible because of the loyal support of our donors, and the rigor and intellect of our staff. The reflection of writing it down in one place is really meaningful and makes me so grateful.

Michele: It may sound simple, but I have the honor of meeting audience members and donors and learning why they choose APT. What motivates them to spend their precious leisure time with us and what drives them to support APT philanthropically? Sometimes those conversations lead to connections with other individuals or businesses that want to support us; but I always hope to leave a chat with a better understanding of how APT impacts a patron.

Sean: As a development director I work with our great patrons and supporters to help them build and grow their connection with APT. I get to hear their stories of how they found themselves here, and what makes it special for them to find ways that their support has the most impact for both APT and for them.

Beatrice: As Donor Relations Manager, I handle most of the incoming gifts, from recording them in our donation system to making sure they are properly accounted for so that the donor receives an acknowledgement/tax letter that thanks them for their gift. I'm also the main touchpoint for communications with donors. If people have to update their information or if they have any type of question about donations, I'm the person to contact.

People who work here often say that APT has the best audience in the world. Have you seen evidence of this? If so, could you share a story? Why do you think that’s true?
Amy: I would agree with that statement in spades. I am still getting to know our audience, but man are they dedicated, smart, and ambitious! Not only is our audience fearless when it comes to the experience of outdoor theater, but some of the most impressive moments I have witnessed come from how they participate in the work. The APT audience and APT experience are both really active and intentional, and it makes our audience just incredible!

Sean: I've seen evidence many times - as the marketing assistant I saw it when the star tent was full for nearly all of our beyond the play talks. I saw it at opening night of 2019's Twelfth Night when a nearly full house sat through two hours of strong rain and were sad to leave when the show had to be called early. And I've especially seen it this year as so, so many people have stepped up to help APT, donating the value of their tickets and giving such generous gifts.

You have the privilege of meeting many audience members personally and learning their story and what brings them to APT. Do you have one or two stories that you could share?

Michele: I have SO MANY STORIES! Here are a couple: a husband and wife who wanted to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary by sponsoring a production and hosting their anniversary party in our pavilion, inviting dozens of guests to see the show and share a meal afterward. And a family who chooses a weekend at APT for their annual family reunion, usually numbering 40+ and from over 8 states. Year after year, I am introduced to new audience members who tell me that they are the guests of patrons who have been coming for years. Our audiences are truly our best ambassadors, and every story is a gift that I try to pass along to our staff and artists so they understand the impact of their work.

Sean: I am always in awe meeting folks who have come to APT from the beginning and hearing their experiences through the years. Maybe my favorite story, though, is hearing from people who came when they were younger, either through school or with a parent/grandparent and now they are bringing their kids. As someone who found a love for theatre at a young age I always love to see younger folks taking an interest in APT, and I have heard that story more than a few times!

Beatrice: over the last ten months as donations have been coming in, and especially since we announced the cancellation of our season, people have sent the most heartfelt notes with their donations. I get to read every single one, and that's one of my favorite parts of my job right now.

What do you wish for APT’s future?
Amy: Oh, this is a big question for this year!! Of course, I wish to have one big celebratory (but super safe) reunion in 2021. I can’t wait to see our audience and to see the company back on stage. But mostly, I hope that APT can continue on the path that was ahead of us after such an exciting 40th anniversary season. I am not sure that we were actually diverted too far from that path - even with the impact of COVID. The thoughtful evolution of our dramaturgy is really exciting to me, the way we are serving schools in Wisconsin is so important, and the outreach we are building on will only solidify our status and service as a cultural leader in our area and industry.

A Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater would also be very nice- and totally deserved.

Sean: I wish continued growth for APT so that more stories can be told and more people can experience the magic of APT.

Beatrice: I'm so excited about APT's Anti-Racism and Action Plan, and that the theater is committed to making the community more welcoming for BIPOC artists, staff, and audience members. I’m grateful that APT is taking these issues seriously, and committing to making immediate changes for the better.

I'm also just excited to experience a full season as a staff member at APT. I started at the very end of the 2019 season, so a lot of people don't really know who I am yet. No matter what 2021 looks like, I'm just excited meet the rest of the staff who usually work at APT during the season, as well as more of our awesome audience.