Welcome to Ask an Admin, a series in which we talk with theatre administrators working in Minnesota to learn about their backgrounds, their jobs, and what snacks they keep in their desks.
Individual Giving Manager at Guthrie Theater
Tell us a little about yourself and your path to your current position.
I was born and raised in a small rural town in England. Although there was no theater to speak of in my town, the cities of Sheffield and Manchester were both an hour away and provided easy access to world-class productions. At the age of 13, I started to get involved with school musicals and also with a small local professional company. I found that I adapted to pretty much any role, but found the most joy in stage managing and scenic painting. This experience was hugely rewarding and propelled me into applying and subsequently being accepted to the University of Kent, Canterbury to study Drama and Theatre Studies.
After I graduated from UKC, I worked for a short while in luxury sales and visual merchandising. Although I loved connecting with people and loved helping them find their perfect product, theater was still calling. In 2013, I moved to Minnesota and was excited to land in a thriving theatre town. Even though I knew I wanted to work in the arts, it wasn’t until I saw a position at the Guthrie that called for someone with a love for connecting with people and for theater, that I knew I had found my home.
Even though I had the raw skills to fundraise, I still had no idea how to fundraise—I remember Googling “what is donor stewardship?,” my title had donor stewardship in it!—I was, however, fortunate to fall into a team of highly skilled and generous fundraisers that took me under their wing. In the past four and half years, I have been fortunate to work in three roles. My current role is Individual Giving Manager, where my team of eight colleagues and I raise over $10 million each year.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was six I really wanted to work for Greenpeace. I was hugely affected by Free Willy and wanted to go and save all of the orcas!
What's the best part of your job?
I think that I have the greatest job in the world. I am biased of course, but what really makes it amazing is the people. I get to meet the most interesting people from all different walks of life. Also, I get to see SO MUCH THEATER!!
When did you know you wanted to work in theatre?
Probably around the age of 13. Although my parents would tell you that I have always been theatrical.
What has surprised you most about your work/working in theatre?
I think that I underestimated the power of theater. I come from a relatively privileged background, and I have always taken the arts for granted. That is not to say that I haven’t always loved it, but seeing how it can transform lives has been a hugely moving and rewarding experience. Watching 1,100 ninth graders experience Shakespeare, for many it’s their first professional theater production, is an experience that I relish every season.
Who gave you the best advice you've ever received, and what was that advice?
One of the scariest parts of a fundraiser’s job is walking into a room full of strangers and not knowing where to make your first connection. My colleague offered a great tip that I still use. She suggested that I look for someone who has something interesting about their attire, a brightly colored coat, a fun necklace, approach them and stick out your hand and say “Hi, I’m Katie. I’m with the Guthrie, I hope you don’t mind me popping over, but I just had to know where you got that coat.” At that moment the ice is broken, and every conversation will naturally fall from that first interaction.
What's the best/your favorite production you've seen in the Twin Cities in the last year?
That is a tough one. I thought The Jungle’s The Nether was beautiful although incredibly disturbing, I am sucker for Steve Yoakam. From the Guthrie, I thought The Bluest Eye was magnificent. It left me utterly broken.
You're stuck on a desert island. Which three theatre-makers would you want to be stuck with?
Are we talking dead or alive? If I have no limitations I’d go:
- Noel Coward. I’m obsessed with him. If you haven’t read his autobiography, Present Indicative, get it now!
- Michael Grandage. He was the Artistic Director of Sheffield Theaters when I was in high school. His work most definitely ignited my lifelong love for theater. I still have a poster from his Richard III, signed by both Grandage and Kenneth Branagh!
- Tyrone Guthrie. I mean, it would be rude not to, right?
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in theatre administration/your position?
Do as many informational interviews as possible. Not only request them but prepare for them, and ask plenty of questions. The Twin Cities theater scene is incredibly close, which can be a blessing and a curse. If you get your name out there and people are impressed with you, they will do everything they can to help you and will offer your name to those who are hiring.
Do you keep snacks in your desk/work area? What are they?
If I do have snacks, they usually last about 30 seconds! My favorite snack to bring in—and then devour instantly—are grapes or pistachios.