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Behind the Curtain: Shining the Spotlight on Theater Arts Management

Written by Lauren Hesse

A theater arts management major mans the ticket booth. Photo by Mike Grippi '10

Christine Olivier ’10 danced and performed her whole life, but when it came to picking a college, she decided not to stay center stage.

“I didn’t want to make a career out of performance, but I didn’t want to give up the arts,” says Olivier. “So I researched some of the best performing arts schools in the country and checked to see if they had matching business programs.” But few did.

“Then,” she says, “I stumbled upon Ithaca and found the concentrated program” -- a degree in theater arts management that offers an in-depth, hands-on approach.

That decision is likely to pay off.

As undergraduates, many theater arts management students (or TAMs, as they are called) intern on tour shows such as Grease and Spring Awakening.

Graduates of the program land behind-the-scenes jobs on Broadway (Jersey Boys, Wicked), in Vegas (Cirque du Soleil, Rent), and everywhere in between.

To prepare students for such big-name productions, classes integrate the organizational skills and financial know-how of a business major with the passion of a performance manager.

“Our curriculum is set up in a really great way, because you take crucial business classes like law and accounting that regular business majors take,” explains Olivier, “but then it gets more focused and specific to what we would be doing in the real world,” with courses like Theater Practice, Script Analysis, Stagecraft, Theater Organization and Management, Promotion and Publicity for the Performing Arts, and Dramatic Literature.

Being a TAM means more than getting a background in business, marketing, and the performing arts, says Olivier. It also means getting “thrown into the lion’s den,” also known as TAM Practicum, a class in which students run the shows that their peers are performing in.

Though pressure-filled, Practicum is viewed by most TAMs as the best experience in the curriculum. Explains Alan Paramore ’11, group sales manager: “We get the opportunity to really run the theater. Students are the ones managing the house, ushering, selling concessions, doing publicity, and working in the ticket office. But it goes way past that. When the doors are closed, we are also the ones counting the money and writing reports at the end of the night, making sure everything adds up.”

It may be the students onstage who put on a great show, but it’s the TAMs who make sure the six productions per year go off without a hitch.

That isn’t always so easy. Olivier recalls one particular weekend when Practicum students had to guard doors to keep a group of (non-theater) student pranksters from trying to release a live chicken onstage during a performance of The Full Monty.

It’s this ready-for-anything mind-set, strong business sense, and passion for theater that help TAMs land plum positions right out of school and build solid careers.

Take Carly DiFulvio ’07, for example. As company manager at Broadway’s American Airlines Theatre, one of the homes of the Roundabout Theatre Company, her job is “to keep celebs happy . . . most of the time.” Those celebs include Sienna Miller (After Miss Julie), Frank Langella (A Man for All Seasons), Mary-Louise Parker (Hedda Gabler), and Matthew Broderick (The Philanthropist).

Or take Matthew Fox ’96. He’s the theater manager at Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre, home of the long-running hit show Jersey Boys.

One thing is for sure: A TAM has to be ready to face it all. All, that is, except being onstage.



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