Interviews / The Business

Company Managers: Women at Work by Dara O’Brien

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Producer Marcia Goldberg

“Company manager is one of the hardest jobs on the show.” That’s how Producer Marcia Goldberg, who is also a partner at 321 Theatrical Management, described this pivotal role.

They are the lynchpins of every Broadway production and national tour. Yet few people outside the Broadway community know what the company manager’s job is–or that it’s an aspect of Broadway that is particularly female-friendly.While the balance of company managers on national tours swings slightly male, about half of the company managers of current Broadway productions are women; for shows that opened in the 2015-2016 season, that number is closer to two out of three.

What role does the company manager play in the life of a production, and why are women so good at it? WIT Online spoke with five top female CM’s about about what they do, how they do it, and what it takes to thrive in the role.

The Job Description

“The company manager is basically the point person for all of the business aspects of the production,” explained Susan Sampliner, company manager of Wicked on Broadway. “During the day we work in the office, and deal with the business aspects of the show: from payroll, to paying bills, to royalties, to insurance. Then at night we go to the theatre, and we are the representative of the producers and general managers once the show is up and running.”

“My primary relationships are the general manager who hires me, the production supervisor, and the stage manager,” said Rina L. Saltzman, company manager of the Beautiful National Tour, “the stage manager being the most important relationship, because that person has to be your partner in all of this.”

“You’re the central cog in a wheel, and information is going to flow through you,” said Susan Keappock, company manager of Chicago on Broadway. “At any point you’re dealing with producers, your marketing team, doctors to handle workers comp problems, unions, and other colleagues, as well as creative artists who are incredibly passionate and working in an art form.”

“The company manager has to walk a fine line,” explained Goldberg, “representing the needs of the producers, while respecting and gaining the trust of the stagehands and performers. The CM has to know everyone in the building and be both confidante and boss.”

fun-home-poster“I take pride in trying to manage with a sense of compassion on both sides,” said Tracy Geltman, company manager of Fun Home on Broadway. “Representing the producers in an honest, true way in the building; and then going back to the producers, [and reporting] what the temperature’s really like, what the company’s feeling.”

As Sampliner pointed out, the job has become much more complicated since she began her career, with more complex contracts, dynamic ticket pricing, and an explosion in marketing activities. “When I started there was print, radio, television, and all of that was handled by an advertising agency, and there was a press agent who dealt with your publicity,” she said.“But now on top of that there’s also an online marketing team, and there’s a marketing company that deals with all of the things we do for trade. And somebody has to coordinate all of those people.”

Despite its pivotal function, Keappock noted that the role is becoming increasingly transitory. “When I first started, it was not unusual to be hired by a GM office, and to stay there for the bulk of your career,” she observed. With a decrease in offices that manage large portfolios of shows, she noted that working from office to office is more common today. “Which means not only doing your job, but tweaking it to how each office does their filing, or how they do their books, or what level of involvement you have with the different facets of the industry, like marketing and ticketing.”

Broadway vs. Touring

In addition to the size of the production and the management office’s business practices, the company manager’s job is largely defined by whether the show is on Broadway or a national tour. “Broadway and touring are two very different animals,” explained Saltzman. “With Broadway, everyone goes home at night, everyone has their own lives; you’re really more business-oriented. When you’re on the road, you’re taking care of people.”

chicago-logo“The difference between Broadway in New York and on tour is that on Broadway you’re the ‘mother ship’, you are running the day-to-day operations of the show,” said Geltman. “On tour, you tend to be more of a camp counselor. You are basically the leader of this group of people traveling from city to city, and you’re managing their housing and their travel and their day-to-day needs. Taking somebody who is used to being in New York, with their family, out of town, and making sure that their living arrangements are taken care of so that they can do their job on stage, becomes an important part of company management. “

“My first time on the road I had no idea what I had gotten myself into,” said Keappock. She took the assignment with just four months of Off-Broadway management experience under her belt. At the tour’s first stop, the venue manager brought her to the room that would serve as her office. It was empty. “I was like, where’s all the stuff?” she recalled.She had to learn the ropes fast, from providing the tools she’d need–including things like printers–to finding solutions to an ever-changing set of problems on the fly.“Each city on that tour was a learning experience,” she said. “I had no understanding how powerful the company manager’s position was, and how much control you have. It’s especially true on the road; when something doesn’t work, they come to you.”

The Right Stuff

With wide-ranging responsibilities, a fast-paced and a steady barrage of demands, the job presents an ever-changing set of challenges. What qualities prepare an individual to meet those challenges, and do some of these qualities reflect women’s traditional strengths?

Goldberg stressed that a good company manager needs to know how to listen. “There’s a bedside manner, in terms of how you interact with people, especially sensitive artists, that helps in success.”

“We deal with a lot of artists, the creatives and the actors, as well as the audience, and so you need to be good with people,” agreed Sampliner. “And that’s the part that I think skews better for women.”

wickedposterStrong people skills impact virtually every aspect of the job. “You’re both a union member and a part of management, which can be tricky,” observed Sampliner. Goldberg said, “Even if you’re not conscious of it, you’re learning to manage up to the general manager and the producer, but then you also have to manage information down into the building, from front of house to backstage to everyone in between.”

Keappock stressed the importance of taking a flexible approach to communications. “You might present a problem to an actor differently than you would to your producer, or to a union,” she noted. “It’s what makes women so successful in this industry, because women are usually great communicators.” She also advocated a flexible approach to problem-solving, and not trying to go it alone. She recalled a time when she joined an established tour, and immediately ran into a housing problem in San Francisco. With the only options she could find coming in far over budget, she was at a loss as to how to proceed. She reached out to a Facebook group for touring company managers and found a solution. “It’s not a weakness to ask for help, it just makes you better,” she said.

The job also demands strong business skills, from accounting to contracts.“Company managers have a fantastic understanding of running what is, sometimes, a small business for a short period of time, and sometimes a large business for a long period of time, depending on the success of the show,” said Goldberg.

Sampliner emphasized the importance of attention to detail, being good with numbers, and writing skills, for contracts, especially. She also stressed the ability to multitask. “I come into my office every day, and I probably know two things that I’m going to do,” said Sampliner, “and everything else is whatever comes up once I get there.” She mentioned that women might be better at that kind of multitasking. “Because of traditionally balancing a work life and a home life, women have a natural disposition to not have to focus on one thing at a time, but to keep a lot of balls in the air.”

‘Women want to get everything done in a timely fashion,” said Saltzman, “A woman manager may stay later at the office–not because we want to be there, or to impress our bosses, but because we need to make sure everything and everyone is taken care of. Men tend to look for shortcuts, where women do not. This is a part of our daily lives; we’re used to juggling many things at once.”

Finding Balance

There could also be a difference between men and women in regard to career trajectory. While women have made, and continue to make, significant strides as general managers and producers, Saltzman observed that men might veer more quickly toward the general manager track. “Women tend to stay longer as company managers than men do,” she said.

Company managers who make that long-term commitment must navigate demanding terrain. ”It’s a day job, and it’s also a night job, and it’s a weekday job, and also the weekend,” said Geltman.“An average work week can be fifty to sixty hours. That goes for stage management and for actors; eight times a week in the theatre is an enormous commitment.”

“Covering eight shows a week is a challenge,” said Goldberg. “When shows can, there’s
\always an assistant, and when a show doesn’t have an assistant because it’s small or it’s a limited engagement, then you try to figure out how to support that person. I think that the workplace has become much more user-friendly to company manager’s lives.”

“When we were working only for men, it was all about the work, 24/7,” said Sampliner, “there was very little understanding of people having lives. But as women have ascended, there’s much more understanding that women are balancing their lives with their careers. That’s a tremendous difference in the workplace from when I started.”

“It helps that I’m on a big show and I have an associate, so my associate works the weekend shows,” Sampliner noted. “I work Monday to Friday around the clock, but on weekends I’m mostly off; I can’t say always, but mostly.” Sampliner also manages an occasional sabbatical. “I don’t take vacations every year, but I do take a large chunk of time every three or four years. I’m about to go on a six-week break. My wife is doing the same. We do this just to recharge.”

“Absolutely the work/life balance is tricky,” said Geltman. She cited her bosses, all women, as role models. “All three of them have husbands, all three of them have children, and all three of them have managed to have an incredibly successful company. I think that’s why I feel that I can continue to do this, because I look up to these women who have figured it out.”

“It’s a Type A job,” Keappock said. “That’s what drives people to work sixty hours a week.” She cited the confidence gained from experience for helping her set some limits, and working smarter, not harder. “Even though I am still constantly surprised by things that happen in my day-to-day life on the job, you learn how to anticipate problems better the longer you work in this industry,” she said. “Ultimately that’s part of the job.”

Moving Forward

Sampliner noted that when she came into the business, there were few women company managers, and most of them were Off-Broadway. “Other than Charlotte Wilcox, there were almost no female general managers on Broadway, so fewer female company managers were hired,” she said. “That started to shift during the time I’ve been in the business.” Saltzman also acknowledged the growth in female general managers, noting that they now outnumber their male counterparts.

Are there still obstacles that female company managers need to overcome in order to do the job effectively? “For me, there haven’t been,” said Geltman. “I’ve worked for some really fantastic women, both as general managers and as producers–I’ve also worked for some fantastic men–but I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had really successful women to look up to.”

“It’s a job where you can be constantly, maybe not reinventing yourself, but finding ways to be stronger and to do the job better,” said Keappock. “I learn by watching other managers, or just listening to their stories.”

beautiful-carol-king-musical-posterWhat about the next generation of women coming into the profession? “I would advise anybody getting into the theatre business to know that it’s a very different amount of hours,” said Geltman. “For a young person that’s getting in, the commitment and the time to do it is definitely something that needs to be considered.”

Goldberg commented on the impact of internships on the new generation: “They’re in the office, they see the hours that a company manager works, how they come in on the weekends, and they say, ‘Oh, wait a minute, I’m not going to work that hard.’ I think we lose a lot of people nowadays because they become afraid of it. Theatre people look at it and say, “It’s a challenge, I’ll do it.”

According to Saltzman, “It’s not so much a gender issue that now separate us, it’s more a generational issue.” She taught at Columbia this year, and was struck by her students’ view of the commitment company management requires.“When I say that’s what the job is, theylook at me like I’m insane,” said Saltzman.“’What do you mean, you get up at seven o’clock in the morning and start emails until eleven o’clock at night, and you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the office?’”

No Business Like Show

Despite the demands of company management, or perhaps because of them, it’s a job that offers profound rewards.

“I like being around actors, I like being around a production, I love being around a show,” said Saltzman. “I’m very lucky that in twenty-two years I’ve had only four weeks of unemployment. Not everyone can say that. I’ve always said that I’m the luckiest girl in show business. For whatever reason, I was always in the right place at the right time, and ready to take the opportunity.”

“I love this industry, and I love being part of it,” said Geltman. “I want to have a voice in this industry, as somebody who knows what they’re talking about, who’s proficient at what I do. I really believe in Broadway and live theatre. My experience has been nothing short of terrific.”

“It’s a great way to make a living, and it’s great experience if you want to be a producer or general manager someday,” said Sampliner. “For me, it’s been both rewarding and fulfilling. It can be a real roller coaster, especially in commercial theatre, but you’re right there at the heart of where the decisions are made, and for me that’s been thrilling.”

“I loved being a company manager,” said Goldberg. “I thought it was the greatest job in the universe. I loved the balance of both worlds, of being a part of the office as well as working in the theatre and being there when the show goes up. Hearing the audience and being reminded why we do this was always very satisfying.”

“A lot of young company managers will reach out for information, and I always say the same thing to them,” said Keappock.“If you can’t stand in the back of the house and be intrinsically proud of the work that you do that makes the production possible, this is not the right job for you. I’ve found that no matter how bad my day at the office has gone, I still want to be in the back of the house after my show starts.”

This piece continues a partnership between HowlRound and the League of Professional Theatre Women (LPTW). In 2012, LPTW launched its journal WITOnline, and in 2015, it became a searchable resource for the field, building a women’s history of theatre through in-depth profiles, interviews, and articles. Find all WITOnline-HowlRound content here.

daraobrienweb DARA O’BRIEN is a playwright and actress based in New York City. She is the recipient of the 2015 Thomas Barbour Playwrights Award; her plays have been presented/developed by Resonance Ensemble, Abingdon Theatre Company, HB Studio, and Naked Angels Tuesdays@9. Her acting work includes the New York premiere of “Gidion’s Knot” by Johnna Adams, directed by Austin Pendleton, at 59E59 Theatres. Member: AEA, SAG-AFTRA, Dramatists Guild, and the League of Professional Theatre Women.www.DaraOBrien.com

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