The Secret Lives of Theatre Managers

My picture was in the paper this Friday for an extra-curricular activity I engage in. It had been taken a few weeks ago so when someone mentioned they had seen me, I discounted it. Since then I have been congratulated and razzed by everyone from co-workers to my dentist.

As I was leaving work this evening, the assistant theatre manager said I should put the photo up on our website to humanize the organization a little. I dismissed the idea because the organization isn’t about me and the goofy poses I take while not at work.

As I drove home, I started having second thoughts. People don’t support organizations, they support and donate to people. That is one of the reasons why I generally make a short curtain speech enjoining people to turn off their cellphones, pointing out the fire exits and telling them what a wonderful time they are about to have. I could record this stuff but the human element is eliminated. Certainly having someone in the lobby to congratulate, complain or petition that they can recognize helps with audience relations, too.

But do they really care about what I do in my off time? My supermarket was posting banners showing how different employees were working in the community as volunteers. Presumably this was to influence people to identify more closely and positively with the supermarket as a community entity. My staff and I are pretty much wrapped up in our jobs at the theatre and hardly have enough time to generate the same credibility.

Those banners struck me as a little manipulative anyway. As with everything, humanizing yourself has to be done correctly for the community. I don’t know how well it did in Milwaukee, but I thought the video the Milwaukee Symphony did for the opening of their season worked well in this regard. They filmed concert master Frank Almond talking about the upcoming season as they follow him around his house. What really worked for me was that they had his daughter dancing and twirling around the living room and zipping across the back deck on a scooter. It made me comfortable listening to him talk about his violin and the music he was going to play. The video made me feel like I would be able to understand and feel something from the music being played during their season.

It would really be great if they would let me twirl around in the aisles like Frank’s daughter.

I am not quite sure if the dynamic between my organization and community is one where learning about the hobbies of the staff will positively influence our audience’s perception of us. More to the point, I am not sure if I want my audience having a relationship with my private life.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Theatre Managers”

  1. Hi Joe,

    A few seasons ago, our orchestra musicians collaborated on a “Meet the Musicians” brochure, complete with photos and short bios. While most of the photos were the standard formal-wear poses w/instrument, a minority were action shots – rock climbing, riding motorcycles, or line-dancing. Those bios were the ones I read first. I had given copies of the brochure to my fellow team members and found that later on we all remembered various musicians as “the rock-climber” or “the guy who teaches line-dancing” . . .

    The fact that so many people noticed your picture in the paper makes me think it was not a nicely-posed resume shot, but you in real life and maybe even funny. Trouble is, when PR wants to replicate that attention by featuring you on the organization’s website, which picture will they use? I know that once I find the information I need from a website (dates, artists, policy) I rarely linger unless my curiosity is aroused, and it never is by the standard “click here to read more about this tux-encased overachiever” photo. Unless you look like Daniel Craig?

  2. Yes, you found me out. Daniel Craig can’t even hold a candle to me…..Mainly because he would probably rather curse the darkness.

    The shot is actually quite fun. Though last night as I was talking to some of the others who were there and realized they didn’t even catch me in action but rather just stretching and preparing. Most who have seen it assume it is an action shot though so my reputation is safe for a little bit.


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