(article originally appeared in the VenueProfessional January/February 2023 issue)
I want to tell you about an ugly croissant and how it relates to my work as a theatre consultant.
In 2020, I started a job as director of strategic planning with Theatre Projects, a global planning and design firm committed to helping shape venues and the organizations and communities that can thrive around them.
Recently, I was working out of our New York office and took a quick break to visit a Lower East Side bakery I’d been following for years on social media. After standing in a (moderately long) line, I was holding this treat—this beautiful, beautiful croissant—that I had long admired from a digital distance. But before paying, I knew to ask if there were any other treats the baker could recommend.
And so, I found myself with two (very different) croissants.
First, I dug into my choice: the perfect, social-media-hyped pastry, and… well… it was fine. Tasty, but, actually, kind of hard to eat. It was messy, fell apart pretty quickly, and turned my dream of an amazing experience into a real let-down.
But then, I took a bite of the other croissant. The one the baker had recommended. The—let’s be honest—ugly but properly-suited option. And reader. Ooooh. This smooshed, un-Instagram-able, dumpy little confection was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. I was so glad I had stopped to ask one more question and didn’t just go with what I thought I knew I wanted.
Which is exactly why I love being a theatre consultant.
Okay, I’ll explain.
I’m a venue manager. For years, I had the privilege of running two small venues in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Each venue was a different challenge, but I loved my work and had the MOST incredible teams. So why would I ever leave?
Well, I met a group of theatre consultants when exploring a possible venue expansion. They asked all the right questions, they challenged our assumptions, and in the end, they were not afraid to give us the answer that we needed, not the answer that we thought we wanted. And they were a blast to spend time with! So, as the pandemic hit and life in venues was significantly changing, I decided to make the big leap.
And now my life is very different. But, also, very much the same.
I get to talk about the same things I talked about every day as a venue manager, but I do it in a way that helps all different types and sizes of organizations across North America. We explore growth potential, community impact, increasing ticket sales, grants, guest experience, artistic programming, staff development, facility expansion, equipment upgrades, signage… the minutiae as well as the macro-level planning that makes us all love this industry.
And I still get to do something different every day. The work of a theatre consultant remains (thankfully) varied, as the work we do and the clients we serve have incredibly diverse needs. “Another day, another show” rings just as true in my present life as it did in my past one.
And I get to concentrate on people: artists, administrators, technicians, board members, neighbors, educators, all manner of stakeholders and constituents in the communities we love and work so hard for.
What is different, for me, is reach.
Being a consultant, my eyes, my attention, and my impact have expanded. I feel a more comprehensive sense of the industry, because I spend all my time working with venue managers (and all manner of programmers, managers, and operators) to understand their unique needs: why their work resonates community-wide, which problems they live with every day, and what keeps them in constant relationship with their specific building.
I see our work in a different lens, which helps me share the hard truths. The “should” versus the “could.” The truth of an assessment versus what a manager thinks they need. It’s the perfect-in-a-photo croissant problem. Sometimes it’s the right fit, sometimes not.
I spend my life helping people pick out the right croissant. And sometimes that’s a croissant that conflicts with their puffed-pastry dreams. But either way, they get a delicious solution, one that will work specifically for them—and their community—years and years into the future. For anyone out there trying to decide where their venue career path may take them, let’s talk! There are so many roles in our industry, and sometimes finding the right fit starts with a conversation over a croissant.