This piece is part of a special package celebrating TCG’s 60th Anniversary Gala, held on May 18, and puts a special focus on workers who specialize fundraising and grant-writing. If you would like to recommend a theatre worker of any job description or discipline for a future Role Call, please fill out our open Google Form here.
Becky Birdsong (she/her)
Profession: Major gifts officer at Pasadena Playhouse, actor
Current home: Los Angeles
Known for: After working in children’s theatre and storefront theatres in Chicago, she began fundraising for a nonprofit social service agency and never looked back. She still acts in the occasional commercial. “You might see me on your TV or smaller screen selling cereal, bratwursts, or giving financial advice,” she said.
What’s next: Having moderated the Playhouse’s virtual member events throughout the pandemic, she and her development team look forward to “intimate, socially distanced gatherings” for donors in the Playhouse’s historic courtyard, and to the theatre’s return to in-person performance.
What makes her special: The Playhouse’s artistic director, Danny Feldman, called Birdsong “an extraordinary fundraiser and all-around wonderful human being. She has made tremendous impact in her time here at the Playhouse, restoring trust with our core supporters and rebuilding our annual fund. We simply wouldn’t be the organization we are today without her.”
Tell the stories: Birdsong remains committed to helping build a theatre field in which “each and every one of our voices is heard. As an African American arts administrator and actor, I want to work in a theatre field that better represents the diverse world we live in. I’m hopeful that the recent light shed on the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion on and off our stages opens doors for more BIPOC artists and administrators, and I’m looking forward to seeing the incredible new work that will emerge from this pandemic.”
Danielle Biggs (she/her)
Profession: Fundraising and marketing, dance and fitness teacher
Hometown: South Brunswick, N.J.
Current home: Woodbridge, N.J.
Known for: The membership manager at New York City’s Public Theater since 2019, Danielle previously worked in individual giving at McCarter Theatre Center, and served in the inaugural cohort of Majority Leaders with the Supermajority Education Fund, which made it possible to learn from social justice icons transforming communities through organizing and activism. She also “teaches a killer Zumba class,” raves fellow fundraiser Reynaldi Lindner Lolong
What’s next: While maintaining her role at the Public, this fall she’ll pursue an M.Ed. in Education Policy & Leadership from American University (Washington, D.C.).
What makes her special: Jared Fine, the Public’s director of marketing, said he’s been struck “from the first moment meeting Danielle” by her “dedication, passion, and care in developing meaningful relationships with audiences. It has been inspirational to see her innovate and deepen her work with our communities over this past year to continue to grow and engage with them.”
Strong and bright: Biggs recalls a performance of West African drumming and dancing at the Children’s Center of NY for Black History Month in 2020, in “an auditorium full of students with similar hues of brown skin as mine, who looked limitless as they danced onstage.” In that moment, she says, “I felt my fire to create a limitless world for them burn stronger and brighter.” Despite the intervention of the pandemic, she remains inspired: “I am the leader I have been waiting for, and I was made for this moment.”
Deanna Gonzalez (she/her)
Profession: Theatre administrator
Hometown: Chesapeake, Va.
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Currently the development associate for Collaboraction Theatre Company, Gonzalez describes herself as “a very operational, detail-oriented event planner and house manager. I’ve successfully trained large groups of staff members in front-of-house procedures on Broadway, as well as at regional and nonprofit performance venues.”
What’s next: At Collaboraction, Gonzalez is planning a “25-Year Moonset Sunrise’’ fundraising event to celebrate the start of the theatre’s 25th season in June. She’s also been working on a new monthly CollaborActivist membership initiative.
What makes her special: Elsa Hiltner, director of development at Collaboraction, conceded that “so often the development office is the last aspect of an organization to move beyond traditional power structures.” That’s one reason she’s grateful for Gonzalez, who approaches development work “from an inclusive, accessible, and anti-racism lens. Her method and view are so important to building and maintaining a theatre company and community that embodies social justice…and the art Collaboraction makes.”
Finding her people: “Extreme stage fright” kept Gonzalez from attempting to be part of an art form she’s always loved, but her career has given her a different way to be part of it. In a post-college job as an administrative assistant for a theatre in Washington, D.C., she said, “I knew I found my people and my calling.” She’s been glad to see a growing “call for awareness and equality,” and adds, “I want to continue to be a part of this movement of transparency, solidarity, and security within our community, where everyone is supposed to be welcome.”
Meena Malik (she/her)
Profession: Arts consultant, cultural organizer, artist
Hometown: Chiba prefecture, Japan
Current home: The traditional lands of the Kizh, Gabrielino, and Tongva, colonially known as Torrance, Calif.
Known for: Malik, currently program manager of theatre at the New England Foundation for the Arts and an alumna of artEquity’s facilitator training, organized and led “Beyond Orientalism: The Boston Forum,” part of a national initiative designed to explore the topics of misrepresentation onstage and in the media. Her stature in the field of anti-oppression work in the arts was recently recognized with a nomination for the 2021 APAP Sidney R. Yates Award for outstanding advocacy on behalf of the performing arts.
What’s next: Malik will be presenting at the 2021 Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy Virtual National Conference in June.
What makes her special: Derek Schwartz, NEFA’s program coordinator for theatre, marvels at the way Malik manages “to cultivate change and uplift the people around her.” Malik’s own artistic work, he notes, “morphs between music and theatre,” and her artist’s lens has led to a National Theater Project “that is really designed with the artist’s perspective at its core.”
Passion and pride: Her passion for supporting devised ensemble theatre ensembles and projects was kept alive through the difficult past year thanks to “the inspiring ways these artists are expressing their voices through their work despite the challenges….I feel proud to be able to provide resources to artists in order for them to create theatre in ways they want to.”
Paula Taylor (she/her)
Profession: Chief development officer, Arizona Theatre Company
Hometown: Born in Boston, grew up in Tucson, Az.
Current home: Phoenix
Known for: Before coming to ATC, Taylor produced professional fashion shows with her company, with such brands as Project Runway and Bill Blass NY. At ATC, she has connected marketing and development to craft successful campaigns through the pandemic, which “helped sustain us during this time of our stages being dark, and dependent on contributed income only.”
What’s next: “With a smile on my face, I can share our entire company is working toward opening night in October,” Taylor effuses. For her that will mean planning and executing a series of donor appreciation parties and season announcement events.
What makes her special: ATC’s artistic director, Sean Daniels, said of Taylor, “She doesn’t just raise money for us, she’s a thought partner. She sees the big picture, she understands what is true excitement and civic pride in a way that inspires me to do my job better.” What’s more, with her background in fashion, he said, “She is deeply smart when it comes to brands, messaging, and encouraging me to wear nicer shoes to all our meetings.”
Dismantling difference: Working in development through a year like the one the field has just endured “is not for the faint of heart,” she concedes. But Taylor’s longtime love for the arts is not easily shaken, and she’s especially inspired by the way live performance can connect people across gulfs of disparity. “Within the theatre walls, we can dismantle differences, if only for a couple of hours,” she says. “I think that alone is worth waking up for each day.”
Wesley Mouri (he/him)
Profession: Development director at Theater Mu
Hometown: Rockford, Ill.
Current home: Minneapolis
Known for: After nearly a decade as a performer in the Twin Cities and abroad, Wesley transitioned to the development field in April 2020, just in time for the pandemic. As part of the #MuSquad, Wesley helped produce 40-plus virtual events amplifying Asian American voices and stories, reaching audiences from 45 states and 10 countries.
What’s next: Theater Mu’s New Eyes Festival: Un(scene), a response to rising violence against Asian American communities, comprising 10-minute virtual plays by local and national creators with ties to the Twin Cities. It runs May 21-22, with a video-on-demand option available May 23-29.
What makes him special: Mouri has “the heart, empathy, and activism to invite others to support our mission,” said Mu artistic director Lily Tung Crystal. Managing director Anh Thu T. Pham noted that Mu’s “experience as an artist shines through in what he does as our development director, whether it’s playing host on a virtual game show or putting together a Broadway-style cabaret. This job isn’t about making money, but how we can tell our stories.”
No longer invisible: Inspired by Mu’s mission, Mouri has become an outspoken advocate for representation. “As we navigate this racial reckoning in America,” Wesley commented, “I plan on using my position to amplify and empower the AAPI community, which has been invisible for far too long. We must deconstruct and rebuild fundraising from the ground up, just as primarily white institutions are being forced to do with their programming and personnel. Money and mission must come together to form a more equitable future for the arts.”
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