Many people see the performing arts as a refuge from the financially motivated corporate world. Performing arts administrators, however, know that the success of a show, a troupe, or a theater is often determined long before the audience shushes and the lights go down. The world of business and the world of art come together in the office of the performing arts administrator. A PAA controls the finances of a company or a theater, with the goal of producing exciting and profitable performances. A performance arts administrator often acts as an artistic director, guiding the focus of a season’s shows and hiring directors, and as an internal accountant/promoter/publicist/manager, controlling all the financial decisions that affect a theater, from allocating a budget for props to hiring a janitorial crew to clean up after each show.
A PAA has to make difficult decisions that may be unpopular with directors, performers, and audiences. “You’re always the man in the black hat” wrote one PAA. “Most of the time you’re out there trying to get money, publicity, press coverage, and reviews,” he said, adding that networking, pitching to supporters of the arts, lining up talent, and negotiating non-essential contracts all contribute to the value of the end product. A number of PAAs come to the profession as former directors, producers, actors, and technical theater personnel, familiar with the day-to-day workings of a performance but unfamiliar with its finances. This education in “creative financing,” as one wrote us, seems to satisfy the need for innovation that many in this profession feel. A PAA can work long hours, particularly for a small theater. Many firmly believe in their houses’ potential profitability; a number invest their own money in struggling or failing concerns.
Some PAAs are hired for their contacts and not for their decision-making abilities or their knowledge of the arts. This is one position where a good “rainmaker” can make an enormous difference to a theater or a troupe. Why do people do this? “It’s not for the money,” wrote one, and others agreed. Performing arts administrators, except at the most prestigious houses and companies, receive unsatisfying wages. They do it because it needs to be done. They love the arts, they want to contribute, and they can. One respondent said, “you work a long day and then, sometimes at night, you open the door to a world that makes people feel alive. That’s what everybody should be doing.” This level of satisfaction is what keeps many in the profession, even as they struggle with financial concerns.
Contacts are important, and, although there are no specific educational requirements, many PAAs take advantage of the contacts they made in college or graduate school. Some attend college and manage theaters there, making sure their studies include finance, economics, drama, and accounting. A great number enter the acting, directing, or technical ends of theater production and gravitate to back-office positions as they find the competition fierce and their interests wandering. Most job-related education takes place on the fly, so PAAs should be quick studies with tact, professionalism, and interpersonal skills. Aspiring PAAs often have to relocate to cities where theater has a large market, generally urban environments, such as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Many find it helpful to take a course in theater finance sponsored by a local university.
Many PAAs become producers. They network among their financial contacts and convince them to invest in ventures as speculative as the ones they have already supported. Other careers that attract the migrant PAA are agent, reviewer, industry analyst, and promoter.