Ask an admin: Whitney Bount
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.
Patron Services Coordinator at Penumbra Theatre
Tell us a little about yourself and your path to your current position.
I studied Creative Writing & Sociology during my time at Augsburg University. I also had an interest in Social Work. Even before heading into college, I always felt inclined to help those around me. It could be the fact that I was a caretaker to younger relatives on a consistent basis growing up or knowing what it feels like to need someone, not knowing how to reach out without fear or shame. I grew to be empathetic and learned how powerful compassion could be.
A lot of my heart work/passion was centered in creating, connecting and community. I wanted to see people do well. To do that I had an understanding that access to resources and information were essential, so was support. I believe we all have a capacity to reach our own potential. For each unique individual there are different needs—a different course. I had a lot of personal experience navigating that terrain of what do I need to be at my best and how do I attain it.
Being an emancipated minor at age 15, I had to hit the ground running to figure things out. With guidance from great case managers, I learned to advocate for myself with confidence. To be able to shape/create spaces where others could feel safe, cared for and empowered became clear in the activities and jobs held. Tutor, mentor, facilitator, personal assistant, poet/performer, diversity and inclusion intern, orientation leader, campus advocate, civic engagement fellow, and so on. So being Patron Services Coordinator at Penumbra Theatre is fitting. I act as an interdepartmental link for Audience Services, Development, Operations, and select executive support for the Artistic Director.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Writer. A Poet. To find my own voice. I wanted to create art. I wanted to be a Social Worker. An Ally. To help people find access to the tools and resources they needed to be at their best.
What's the best part of your job?
Hmm...I’d have to say one of the best parts of my job is the deep appreciation and trust our patrons have in the care that they receive. Be it the feedback they provide during calls, the thank you notes, or the excitement they share after they’ve recommended Penumbra to new folks with assurance that they are in great hands and in for amazing art.
When did you know you wanted to work in theatre?
Truthfully, I had no idea. I know that I needed work and a dear friend recommended the theatre. I’d been seasonal part-time as a Front of House Associate, and I was so grateful to my friend! The Director of Audience Services, Anita, was my first introduction/welcome to the company, and she is a gem! She taught me what I needed to know and with the help of the other Front of House folks, I hit the ground running. It was fascinating with being on the inside. I had been a patron in other spaces, but had no idea what went on to make that happen. So imagine the awe I was in standing in the center of history. Rondo, Penumbra, The Hallie Q. Brown center—so much black excellence. I was and still am honored to be immersed in it all.
What has surprised you most about your work/working in theatre?
That I am good at it. No vanity intended. I had no experience working in a theatre prior to this. I was promoted to an Executive Assistant position a year or so after my hiring and let me tell you—it was a little nerve wracking. I would wonder if my theatre etiquette was up to par, if I should study more August Wilson, Google the company members—God forbid I not know someone’s name and shame my house. My supervisors—everyone really—were helpful in familiarizing me with the Penumbra way, as well as the needs they had and how to go about supporting that in the best possible way. Feedback didn’t ever feel like criticism, each instance was a teaching moment and great points of observation. I grew into my role well. This year in July I was promoted into my current position, full-time. I feel at home here, and I look forward to continue growing with my fellow Penumbrians.
Who gave you the best advice you've ever received, and what was that advice?
I’d have to say, Miss Irene. She was a little woman, but an extraordinary force, with a great heart and no filter. I loved that about her. I was painfully shy and in fear of things that felt too big for me. New things. She told me that I could be afraid and comfortable with the way I was living or I could trust myself to be brave enough to let go and come alive with all the potential I didn't believe I had.
What's the best/your favorite production you've seen in the Twin Cities in the last year?
Hands down, Black Light, with Jomama Jones (ha, I know, I live at work sometimes and don't get around to other venues). Our Claude Edison Purdy festival this year in February was my first instance of the Jomama Jones experience and wow! I was enamored of her.
You're stuck on a desert island. Which three theatre-makers would you want to be stuck with?
Ntozake Shange, Langston Hughes, and Domonique Morriseau.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in theatre administration/your position?
Be gentle with yourself. Mistakes will be made. Be proactive and seek advice, that’s where lessons are learned. Ask questions. It doesn’t make you look incompetent, it reflects responsibility and the best part—you find answers. Trust in your capabilities. Development, professional or personal, means there will always be something new to discover as you grow.
Do you keep snacks in your desk/work area? What are they?
Oh my goodness, yes! Essential. Between meetings, shows, or whatever. Tea, dark chocolate, dried & fresh fruit, Triscuits—honestly the list goes on. I switch things up by season. And of course I share—sometimes, ha!