How to ensure that an out-of-town artist will be able to do their best work on your turf? For starters, keep them warm, dry, and fed. That tall task falls to the company management team, who serve as travel agents, concierges, chauffeurs, therapists, event planners, landlords, interior decorators, medical advisors, and more. It’s company management’s job to make sure every aspect of an artist’s stay—as long as 10 months at a stretch at some theatres—is comfortable and safe.
Company management works to secure and prepare housing long before artists arrive. Nicole Tilford, company manager at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisc., schedules calls a few weeks prior to arrival to introduce the remote town and give virtual tours of living quarters. Jean-Paul Gressieux, company manager of California’s Berkeley Repertory Theatre, decorates the theatre’s nearby rental units with a “minimal chic aesthetic,” giving artists a blank slate to make the space their own. Max Schwager, company manager of D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, updates a “Guide to Life” booklet with resources, maps, and information for the city. He also distributes “Bard Baskets” of wine and snacks, donated by volunteers.
“This is not a business trip,” says Hillary Martin, company manager at Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis. “This is real work, and it can be very hard work—we want their focus to be on that. So how can we help them transfer their lives to Indianapolis smoothly?”
Company management doesn’t just build and stock the welcome wagon; they also drive it, shuttling artists among airports and train stations, and scheduling other transportation. For the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville, company manager Dot King and this year’s apprentice Ben Otten will oversee 450 trips. At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., the company management team oversees multiple trips for more than 1,000 artists over the course of a season, which is why they’ve created their own software system, Season Central, to handle it all.
The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., enlists several drivers to drive a fleet of large vans for the daily shuttle route. But for theatres in urban areas, ride-sharing apps have changed the game, with Uber and Lyft company accounts alleviating some of the back-and-forth driving and the need for reimbursements. For mass departures, STC’s Schwager gathers departing cast and crew in the lobby for a communal send-off before everyone climbs into different cars. At APT, Tilford transports actors from back-to-back rehearsals via a golf cart.
When artists arrive, company managers put on their party planning hats for meet-and-greet gatherings, as well opening and closing night parties. Nicole Smith, company manager at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W. Va., leans on company interns and volunteers for the welcome barbecue, which feeds upwards of 250 cast and crew members, board members, and patrons to kick off the festival season.
Care and feeding doesn’t stop there. At IRT, Martin and general manager Jane Robison take turns cooking homemade meals for cast and crew on two-show days, host Taco Tuesdays, and tote cookies and hot cocoa to rehearsals. Company management at the O’Neill work with nearby restaurants to extend delivery zones during the summer, and a local food truck comes by after late-night rehearsals and readings. (The on-site cafeteria at the O’Neill is perhaps the company management’s greatest asset.)
On Equity Mondays, IRT’s Martin leads a caravan of cars to the grocery store. Smith at CATF organizes river rafting adventures and hiking excursions for the company. Each summer, Tilford at APT arranges a special visit to a wood-fired pizza shop—the owner opens the restaurant, usually closed on Mondays, for cast and crew to enjoy food, lawn games, and live music.
Partnerships like this help introduce artists to the community at large. IRT’s longstanding relationship with a state-of-the-art gym in Indianapolis means a generous discount for out-of-town artists, and the hotel where artists live offers special rates for visiting family. Martin also makes sure artists take advantage of the Urban Arts Consortium of Indianapolis I.D. card, with free admission to the zoo and cultural events.
Another part of the job: disaster preparedness and damage control. Martin stocks bags of frozen peas in case of rehearsal injuries and has an emergency bag prepped for trips to the E.R. APT’s Tilford brings Gatorades to outdoor rehearsals on hot days, and stocks granola bars for tech week. O’Neill staffers trade on-call shifts, responding to late-night housing lockouts and the occasional skunk sighting. There is protocol for everything: from cougars and wildfires in Oregon to bicycle accidents and arrests in Indiana. There is no duty that is above and beyond; it’s all in the job description.
Per Equity rules, theatres must ship up belongings back to artists, which can be up to 500 lbs. depending on the theatre’s size and contract—“a monumental task,” says Tara Kayton, OSF’s company manager, explaining why the company starts planning for it months in advance. Gressieux of Berkeley Rep jokingly changes his title to “The Mobile Shipping Office” during this time.
“A good rule of thumb in company management is the empathy test,” says Gressieux. “If you put yourself in the position of a person who is coming to a strange city, perhaps for the first time and staying for months on end, you would begrudge them no creature comforts.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that IRT artistic director Janet Allen cooked homemade meals for cast and crew, but it is general manager Jane Robison who needs to be credited for her culinary skills.