Welcome to Ask an Admin, a series in which we talk with theatre administrators and theatre-makers working in Minnesota to learn about their backgrounds, their jobs, and what snacks they keep in their desks.

Ashlee Hartwig

Marketing Director at Duluth Playhouse

Tell us a little about yourself and your path to your current position (schooling, training, past work/life experience, mentors, etc.).

I grew up in a very small town in farm country (think 350 people in my town—that small!) where my family operated a small dairy farm. I decided to pursue theatre in high school and earned by BFA in Theatre-Acting at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I also earned by BA in Professional Writing–Journalism, so after five years of schooling, I graduated with two degrees! I worked in communications for a couple of years and had previously held internships in journalism and PR prior to graduating. It was around this time I decided to give theatre marketing a go because that seemed to marry my two fields quite nicely. I asked the right question at the right time! I was already working Box Office and managing Front of House for the Playhouse and Underground on a part-time basis, and one day I approached the Marketing Manager if there was an internship or any project I could help her with so I could gain some experience in this area. A few days later, she told me they were hiring a marketing assistant and asked if I was interested in applying. I was, I applied, and a couple of weeks later, I started working for the Duluth Playhouse, and I’m still here (albeit with a couple of title changes). 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Oh man, I wanted to be a lot of things. First, I remember wanting to be a car salesman. Our family bought a red minivan when I was six years old, and I was very impressed by our salesman’s office. After that, and as I grew older, I wanted to be an FBI agent or a cowgirl, and further into high school, that’s when I settled on wanting to be a professional actress. No, an Oscar-winning actress. I also flirted with wanting to be a TV news reporter, and I do still have dreams of being the host of my own TV show. 

What’s the best part of your job?

I love that no day is ever the same. The schedule of shows and events is constantly changing, so our performance message is always evolving based on the show. I also love being in the rehearsal studio with the actors. Feeling their energy for the shows, and then getting to see it through the creative process is really exciting for me, and if it excites me, I feel strongly it will excite our patrons. I also absolutely love overseeing our branding and image. 

When did you know you wanted to work in theatre/the arts?

Theatre was a big passion of mine in high school, and its continued to this day. I could also say it started when I would act out books in our backyard with my cats as an audience, but that may make me sound like a crazy cat lady. :)

What has surprised you most about your work/working in theatre/the arts?

I’ve carved out my position here at the Playhouse because I wanted to be more involved in the productions. I didn’t want to just slap a title on a poster, and say, “There! I’m marketing a show.” I want to be in the thick of it, and it surprises me when other marketers find that shocking. Why wouldn’t I be in the rehearsal room, filming bits and pieces of rehearsal, to whet the appetite of our patrons and to show them the process of how a show goes from rehearsal studio to stage? It also surprised me just how grueling the hours can be. I’ve since adopted a better work-life balance since I took this job five-ish years ago, but the hours can still kick my butt from time to time. 

Who gave you the best advice you’ve ever received, and what was that advice?

I don’t know if someone said this to me or I read it somewhere, but I always stand by the advice of “I’d rather give it a try and fail than never try at all and always wonder.” I had a good job with great benefits before joining the Playhouse, but I wasn’t being fulfilled in more than a few ways, so when it came to decide whether to take the job or not, I relied on this piece of advice, and I’d say it’s treated me very well. 

What’s the best/your favorite production you’ve seen in the last year? 

I’ve been a terrible theatre-goer lately. I need to go see more shows! This past year, I would have to say it was our production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It not only brought me back to my kid Disney days, but I brought my three-year-old niece as my date and watching the show through her eyes (and getting to meet Belle afterwards!) reminded me about the patron experience and how we get to touch lives in a unique way. Other shows I’ve seen in Duluth in the past few years that have left a mark are Hedwig and the Angry Inch(the Underground), Annapurna(Duluth Playhouse), and Dear Finder(University of Minnesota-Duluth).

You’re stuck on a desert island. Which three theatre-makers would you want to be stuck with (living or dead)?

  • Harvey Fierstein, because I think he would keep me laughing. 
  • Alan Menken, because he wrote a lot of music for Disney films/musicals. 
  • My niece Nora, because at the age of three, her imagination is endless, and it would certainly keep us far from bored.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in arts administration/your position?

You need to be prepared to take on a lot of projects that aren’t necessarily your job, and the hours are going to be long, but it’s worth it every single time. Don’t be afraid to try something—it might fail, it might succeed. You don’t know unless you give it a try. Technical skills are a plus (Adobe Creative, videography, and editing), but playing on the side can be fun while building your skills at the same time.

Do you keep snacks in your desk/work area? What are they?

Oh yes! It depends on the day and if I’m trying to be healthy or not. It can be anything from a bag of Dove chocolates to a box of Triscuits to several apples. But always chocolate…and if I don’t have any, I’ll go bug my coworkers for any they might have…