Today marks the third anniversary of A Quick 5 on MD Theatre Guide. When I started this column I never thought it would last this long and be as popular as it has become. Today’s column is number 328 which means I have asked 1,640 questions in the past three years. I always knew I talked too much.
Three main ingredients have and always will be the key to the column’s success. First off is the amount of help I get from all of the publicists at the theatres. If it weren’t for them, these interviews would never be happening so a big salute to every publicist that has assisted me in getting an interview subject. A Quick 5 would never exist without all of their help.
Secondly of course I want to thank all of my subjects for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this column. I’ve had some incredible opportunities to introduce some up and coming artists while at the same time interview some of our brightest and long running stars in the DC/Baltimore theatre communities. Everyone from Adi Stein to Tonya Beckman to former NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman have all graced A Quick 5. I am a very lucky columnist.
Lastly and most importantly, without you guys, the readership, there would be no point in continuing A Quick 5. It’s always gratifying to have someone say to you “I really enjoyed that piece on such and such.” or “I didn’t know that person did that show.” If the column is educating besides entertaining you, then I have done my job.
I wish to thank publisher Mark Beachy for letting this column grow and blossom in the last three years and to my wife Jennifer Perry who is my biggest daily support factor.
And now I will get out of your way and let you enjoy column number 328 with the very theatrical couple of Maggie Boland of Signature Theatre and John Hance of Kennedy Center. Here’s to another great year of interviews and thanks to all of you for taking A Quick 5 with me.
Today’s column features a couple who hold two high powered jobs in the theatre world. Maggie Boland is the Managing Director of Signature Theatre and her husband John Hance is Budget Director and Manager, Theatre Programming for The Kennedy Center. Read on to understand exactly what those positions are. Maggie and John have two jobs that I imagine some people probably would not want. You have to constantly use the word no with artistic types that want to spend money they don’t have and answer to a board of directors as to where the money is going much of the time. While their day jobs keep Maggie and John busy and out a lot of nights, they also have to balance work with being parents to their eleven year old daughter Willa. How do they do it? Question four will reveal the answer.
One thing I find with Maggie and John is that they are very approachable. Many people in these kinds of positions tend to hide from their audiences but you can always find Maggie talking to patrons in the lobby at Signature and I can always say hi to John at Kennedy Center. This is partially because he is usually sitting directly in front of me at a show but no matter when I see him, the result is the same. Maggie and John are very important in keeping their respective theatres in check financially and both do a great job. Next time you see a show at Signature or Kennedy Center think about what something may cost on stage and chances are Maggie or John signed off on it. Considering these two folks have very high pressure jobs and this being the beginning of the season, I want to thank Maggie and John for starting the third year of this column off with a bang.
Can you please tell us how you each got started working in arts management?
Maggie: I have always loved theater; I grew up outside Scranton, PA and my parents took me to see Broadway shows as often as they could – it was only a 2-hour ride away. I was a classic “theater geek” in high school and college, doing just about everything on both sides of the curtain: acting, singing, stage managing, publicity, directing; as a senior at Boston College, I was the director of one of the theater groups on campus. As an English major, though, I always assumed I would work in publishing and moved to NYC after graduating with that as the primary plan. As I was temping and interviewing at publishing houses, I was also secretly answering ads in the NY Times for theater jobs, and I completely lucked out when Roundabout Theatre Company advertised for a Development Assistant. I honestly didn’t know what “development” meant at the time, but they hired me anyway – and that was the start of my career as an arts administrator.
John: I grew up on Long Island and had a wonderful music teacher take me to see my first Broadway show, Annie, I believe in the third grade. From then on I was so interested in Broadway shows and when I was old enough to take the LIRR into NYC, I spent many a Saturday afternoon at the TKTS booth seeing amazing theater. I never thought I would work in that world, but I am so happy to be doing so now. While in NYC, I worked at NBC as finance manager for many NBC news programs and Maggie worked at the Roundabout Theatre. Her job enabled us to see so many shows and my love of theater only grew. We moved to DC because of a great job opportunity for me at NBC, and I worked there for 3 years. In total, I had been working at NBC for 11 years and was looking for a possible change. I saw a job posting in the Washington Post (yes, in the actual print edition) for a Budget Manager at the Kennedy Center and thought that might be interesting. It was a newly created position and a chance to put my own mark on something. They offered me the job 13 years ago and “I’m Still Here” to quote Sondheim. On a side note, Maggie cautioned me about working in non-profit theater, but I have not regretted it (OK, mostly).
Can you please tell us a little bit about what each of your jobs entail?
John: Well, I was hired as the Budget Manager and was eventually promoted to Budget Director. About 7 years ago, there was an opening for Manager, Theater Programming and I put together a proposal for our CFO, VP of Theater Programming and Michael Kaiser that entailed a way I could do both the budget and theater jobs. Luckily they agreed to the plan, which I was so thankful for, and I have been doing double duty ever since. As the Budget Director, I oversee the budget of the Kennedy Center and work directly with the CFO on developing the annual budget and our monthly budget projections. As the Manager of Theater Programming I do all the contracting for our touring productions and serve as the General Manager for all of our self-produced shows. As General Manager, I am responsible for hiring of the Stage Management team, Company Management and various other positions. I also work with all the agents and unions of our Director, Choreographer, Designers, etc. on their contracts.
Maggie: As the Managing Director at Signature, I am responsible for the business side of the organization: I oversee the Development, Marketing, Finance, Education, Human Resources, General Management and IT departments, as well as working closely with the Artistic and Production departments on the financial side. Eric Schaeffer, Artistic Director, and I partner on planning and strategy, and I work very closely with Signature’s Board on all of the above.
Do you find with both of you working in the same kind of job that it’s easier to come home and vent or do you try to keep your jobs separate from home life?
Maggie: We definitely talk about work a lot. It’s so helpful to have someone who can understand the issues we are facing on a daily basis, and I really trust John’s judgment – plus we know so many people in common, it’s great to have a helpful voice to talk with no matter what is going on. We also love to go to shows together and find ourselves discussing what was great, or not so great, about what we’ve seen over a glass of wine at the end of the day.
John: We actually do talk a lot about work and I think we are a resource for each other since some of our job responsibilities are similar. We have both been involved in DC theater since we moved here from NYC 16 years ago so it is a big part of our lives and definitely a part of our home life as well. And yes, sitting on the back porch at the end of the day with a glass of wine talking about our day is a major ritual for us.
You are parents to an eleven year old daughter. With the many nights out that your jobs entail, how do you balance the parenting thing?
Maggie: I am particularly lucky that Signature is a really family-friendly work environment – I am able to go see our daughter Willa run in a cross-country meet or perform in the middle school play without any drama at all. John is also an amazing partner in parenting – there’s no question that we’d be sunk without a totally equal partnership (and it’s not always totally equal – there are definitely times when the burden falls more on him). We also have a fantastic group of people who help us manage the schedule, including lots of local theater folk, who hang out with Willa, or drive her around, when John and I are not available. Willa has been a silent observer at more than a few rehearsals at Signature because her babysitters bring her along! As Willa gets older, it’s also fun to be able to bring her to work events – Signature’s staff, Board and supporters are always really welcoming. There is no question it was harder when she was younger.
John: Well this is definitely a harder challenge for Maggie since she has many more evening commitments than I do, although I try to be a part of them as much as possible, since I love Signature Theatre and the work they do and definitely feel as if I am part of the Signature family. Our daughter Willa is great and flexible since she has dealt with this all of her life. We also include her as much as possible in events at our theaters. And basically, we just throw money at our babysitters, many of whom are actually actors in DC!
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your respective theatres since you started working at them?
John: I can’t say there have been many changes at the Kennedy Center since I started. We were already committed to producing theater when I joined the Theater department, as seen by the Sondheim Celebration, and we have continued that tradition every year since I have been there. We have produced some great work, if I do not say so myself, and have had several shows such as Ragtime, Follies, and Side Show transfer to Broadway. We do have a new President now at the Kennedy Center and it will be interesting to see what changes, if any, to our annual commitment to producing great theater occur under her leadership.
Maggie: I joined Signature in the spring of 2008, just as the organization was finishing its first full season in our beautiful current facility. It’s unquestionable that the transition from the prior location – which we affectionately call “The Garage” – was a challenging one, as we worked through what the right mix of projects and operating model would work best, and it was a somewhat turbulent time for the organization. I am glad to say that things have settled down beautifully and we are on a great track now. As we celebrate the Theatre’s 25th Anniversary this season, the roadmap is clear and we are stronger than ever before.