Catching Up with Katie Fox

By Katie Fox

A year and a half ago, after a fifteen-year professional career in the arts, I was given the opportunity to open a new performing arts center for Midlands Technical College – a tremendous opportunity for me, personally, and for our community. Beginning in September, Harbison Theatre will present world premier productions by Columbia-based artists as well as touring productions by internationally-recognized companies. We will host performances by student groups of all ages; welcome innovative speakers and intellectual leaders to events like TEDxColumbiaSC; offer workshops in stagecraft to high school students and community members; and serve as a performing home to community groups such as the Palmetto Mastersingers and the Chapin Community Theatre. Some of these events have already experienced a successful run this year at the theatre. But believe me; we have so much more in store.

A couple of months ago I had lunch with the editor of Jasper, who asked, “What are you doing? We never see you anymore!” This new job keeps me busy, especially given that, currently, I am working with a staff of one – Me. She and I discussed the responsibilities of being a presenter and producer at a new venue, and I’m pretty sure the discussion led to my invitation to write this guest column. After all, very few people know exactly what it is that a presenter or producer does. I hope I can clear this up.

Essentially, the role of the presenter/producer is to provide talented, competent artists with the resources they need, trust them to create something remarkable, and provide them an audience with whom they will complete the experience.

On a daily basis, this is what it looks like for me:

8:00 AM – Oh, who am I kidding? I’m not at work yet, but I might be at the gas station scoring some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

8:45 AM – Check email.

9:15 AM – Make reminder phone calls to arts organizations that have rental events at the theatre the next week. None have sent in their event insurance documentation, which is mandatory for every event on campus. They assure me that the rider will be in my inbox tomorrow morning. Mark calendar to call and have this same conversation in two days.

9:30 AM – Check on the progress of the new website. It must fulfill our needs for online ticketing, marketing, volunteer recruitment, and rental requests, yet be user-friendly for both the audience and the webmaster, which means me.

10 AM – Phone call with the booking agent for a fantastic, internationally-renowned dance company we’re presenting next season. I have an 18-page technical rider to approve before we can go to contract. I would rather not approve it until I have a technical director on staff, which won’t be for a few more weeks. After some discussion of the rider’s primary tenets, the agent agrees that we can hold off on the final contract but may begin marketing the show. Excellent! Now I can tell Jasper readers that Pilobolus will be performing at the theatre on October 12th and 13th.

11 AM – The cast of our Family Series Workshop production of UNTITLED arrive for rehearsal. A few months ago I met with local actor and storyteller Darion McCloud and asked, “What would you perform for family audiences if you had all of the technical support you needed?” UNTITLED was his answer. It combines traditional storytelling with singing, musical instruments, costumes, acting, and video. The collaborative creation of the piece by its ensemble is beautiful to watch, and fills me with the energy I need to…..

12 PM – …wrestle with the State of South Carolina’s procurement code. In case you don’t know, the word “procurement” means “buying stuff.” We’re buying some new stage lights.

1 PM – Delivery of our new scene shop equipment. It’s like Christmas! The once empty shop is now filled with saws, drills, pneumatic staplers, sanders, and more.

2 PM – Drop-in guests. Today it’s a local theatre company who would like to tour the facility and talk about rental opportunities.

2:30 PM – Phone call with the college’s director of development. He is recruiting sponsors for both the Family and the Signature Series. Like all non-profit arts organizations, Harbison Theatre looks for sponsorships and grants to fill the gap between production costs and ticket revenue.

3:00 PM – Program light cues for this weekend’s performance of a local community band, which is my responsibility until the aforementioned new technical director comes on board.

4:15 PM – Phone the theatre’s architect. We are preparing to buy either a fog machine or a haze machine, and need to know if the fire alarm and sprinkler system are triggered by heat or by particles. The architect explains that they are heat activated. I’m still too nervous to order either machine.

4:30 PM – Quick dinner at the desk, and then I’m off to class. This summer I am enrolled in an American Sign Language course at MTC. In January, Harbison Theatre will produce Sign Me Alice, a play about the founding of Gallaudet University which will be performed both in ASL and English simultaneously. The director only uses ASL, so I need to learn. I love the class.

8:00 PM – Stop back at the theatre to check in with our part-time production assistant before heading home. Rehearsal is still going strong for a youth production that opens in two weeks. The young actors are focused – the parents are beaming.

I am tired, satisfied, happy, and (almost) ready to do it all again tomorrow.

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