The following is a guest post by Company Manager, Jeff Feola.
Now that you’ve hired a General Manager to “jumpstart” your production, it’s time to start thinking about the additional staff who will work tirelessly to bring your production to life. The General Manager will be your guide to hiring the press agent, the designers, an advertising firm, and, finally, the person who will administer the day to day operations on your production: The Company Manager.
Think of Company Managers as soldiers on the front line – we’re the ones putting out fires on the battlefield, executing assignments from the General Manger and reporting back with status updates and figures on a daily basis. Our main responsibilities are managing the behind-the-scenes business to ensure the production moves forward in a timely, and fiscally conscious manner. We take care of the logistics, so the creative team can focus on the production itself.
The General Manager has laid out a road map: the guide to a successful business venture. The contracts are signed, the budget is finalized, and the team has been assembled. It now becomes my job as Company Manager to see that contracts are being adhered to, spending is on budget, and to make sure everyone is staying within the confinements of the road map.
Before rehearsal begins, we’re already preparing to ensure a smooth pre-production process. We make sure that the various unions all have the final executed contracts in hand, insurance is in place and the payroll company is ready to start processing checks – just to name a few Company Manager duties well before we’ve met any of the actors.
As Company Managers, we must be able to adapt to new environments, as every show is completely different. One of the initial things I do during the first rehearsal is read the room. What does the Director need? How can I support the Stage Manager? How experienced are the actors? Being able to answer these questions will help prepare me for success as I begin to work with this particular group. I like to enter a rehearsal room without any preconceived notions about anyone on the team. Adapting to the different personalities, and finding the fine line between being sensitive to the needs of others, and knowing when to say no can be very challenging, but a necessary quality of a good manager. Something that I always tell a room of artists is that I am here for them, I am here to do whatever is necessary to help support their work as they bring the art of theater to life.
Being able to focus and complete a given task is a necessary skill in order to be successful in this position. On any given day, I can be preparing payroll, planning for an opening night that is weeks away, making sure that everything is on point for the load-in process, tracking sales and making myself available as needed. Phew! Needless to say, staying focused, making a killer to-do list and successfully completing each task without getting distracted is an essential quality of a great Company Manager.
The Company Manager must always be aware of what is happening in all departments. On a daily basis, we communicate with the accountants and clarify any information they may need to keep the books clean. We are also always aware of dates for press releases, discount blasts, and marketing deadlines. A good Company Manager will always be aware of the show’s financial situation and must be mindful of the current bank balance and anticipate any upcoming payments. Sometimes the General Manager will ask for a cash flow chart that documents all upcoming payments to ensure that the production is financially prepared to make these payments. To all you aspiring theatre kids reading this post, take math class seriously because you will need to use it someday, especially if you’re planning on working in management.
In addition to being the producer’s representative at every show, the Company Manager works as the liaison between the advertising team and the box office. All departments can expect at least a once a day correspondence with very detailed (and accurate) reporting of ticket sales. Your General Manager will review the accounting reports to determine strategies for the remainder of the run. Sometimes, we even have to begin a conversation about closing the production if the running costs exceed the box office income – which is never a fun conversation to have.
Each arts manager has their own approach to how they administer a production – personally, it is important that I feel a connection to the work and to those I am working with, as well as making myself available to the team. I like to know that my company feels like they can come to me with any issues, and I want them to know that they are heard and we will help solve their issue. The goal is always to listen, affirm you’ll find and answer, and follow up. That is my formula for dealing with artists’ concerns. Very rarely will I ever feel like something is “not in my job description.” If this means lugging a gigantic prop across Times Square to the rehearsal room, I do it. If this means sitting in a cab with an injured artist en route to the emergency room, I do it.
As you can see, company management requires a varied skill set and the ability to listen, adapt and stay focused. All in all, being a Company Manager is an incredibly rewarding job – rewarding in the sense that you’re helping people, you’re caring for them, you’re preparing them for success and watching them bring the production to fruition. For me, the rewards come from the little things, like successfully solving an artist’s problem or not making (too many) mistakes on payroll. But the greatest reward is being able to enter a theater every night – walking through the empty seats, mingling with the box office manager, conversing with the crew as they prepare for that show, checking in with the actors backstage – I love nothing more than being in a theater an hour before the curtain rises. It’s like preparing to make magic happen, and it doesn’t get much better than that.