Tori Rezak

Tori Rezak
Major/Job Title:
External Relations Officer TheatreAspen
Class Year:

Tori Rezak

What jobs have you held that helped prepare you for the position you are in now?

I’ve held a few different jobs that have helped me prepare for my job as External Relations Officer for Theater Aspen. Theatre Aspen is a small company and our staff members all wear several different hats. My work in undergrad was based around costume design and production. Working in UNI’s costume shop as a TA during undergrad and then in the costume shop at the Pacific Conservatory for Performing Arts (PCPA) in California of course strengthened my costume-specific training, but those jobs also gave me a holistic understanding of the technical and performing elements of mounting a show. While I was still at UNI, I also co-founded the drag and burlesque troupe Sissy’s Sircus: I served as their president for 4 years, designed costumes, planned tours, and managed marketing and fundraising efforts. Running that troupe gave me a taste for working in a more administrative capacity. After undergrad, I worked as a corporate and social event planner in Des Moines. That job exposed me to LOTS of different personalities and taught me how to be patient in challenging situations, calm under fire, and how to manage the expectations of clients and fellow staff members. Event planning is just a different form of theatre—there are lots of moving parts, and communication is key. In my current position, I manage marketing, fundraising, front of house, and event rentals. Ensuring the ease of purchasing a ticket and attending a show, connecting donors’ interests with the company’s needs, and negotiating contracts with event clients all require a thorough understanding of technical theatre as well as strong communication skills.

As you were applying and working in different companies, how did your tasks and responsibilities differ, and how were they similar?

Going from the costume shop to the marketing and development office may seem like a strange leap, but the mind set required by a stitcher or draper is not dissimilar to that required of an administrator. Working with designers and directors, the final costume is the goal; the technician pulls apart the design into its component pieces. Similarly, I now work with the administrative staff to develop our long-term goals for ticket sales and fundraising, then work backwards to develop a plan of attack to meet those goals. At one time I focused on the details of each stitch in a costume, now I focus on the details of engaging language, timed mailings, and exciting imagery. Something that has never changed—despite my different companies and titles—is working with people and making sure all parties have what they need to do the best they can. I spend way more time at a computer than a sewing machine these days (though I do sometimes get drafted to help with alterations and craft builds,) but the ability to break down a final product into its component parts while maintaining clear communication has remained constant throughout my career.

When did you decide to pursue your MA and MBA, and what was that process like for you?

I knew I wanted to pursue grad school while I was finishing up at UNI. I attended URTAs and toured various design programs while I was working in California, but I was also still managing Sissy’s Sircus from across the country. My co-founders and I were considering what it might take to make the Sircus an official non-profit, but none of us quite knew how to achieve that. It was around that time that I discovered

Arts Administration was a career option. I had spoken to PCPA’s Production Manager, and decided I needed more training— specifically on the business side—if I wanted to found a company. When I began applying for Arts Admin programs two years later, I was looking for schools that offered both the business training I needed with an arts-specific focus. I considered Columbia College in Chicago, American University in DC, and the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati.

How did you decide/narrow down your choice for a master’s program?

Before officially applying to any of these schools, I visited each city, toured the campuses, and met with faculty and students. Physically visiting each school was extremely important to me. I would be moving somewhere completely new, completely on my own, and that new city might be where I stayed for a long time. I had to at least feel at home in this new place. I also knew that I did not want to pursue a four year program, and that the cost of living and tuition would be a big factor. Ultimately, I was looking for the biggest bang for my buck. How much could I achieve in the shortest time with the smallest amount of money? CCM became my top pick because I could get two masters in two years, and they offered a full tuition waiver with a Graduate Assistantship. Additionally, the cost of living in Cincinnati was not much higher than that in Des Moines, and the city was entering a revitalization phase with several arts organizations redefining their place in the community.

What advice do you have for current students and others as they are looking for work and companies to work with, or considering grad school?

This might be the MBA talking, but jobs and grad school are both a big investment— of your time, your energy, your sanity, and your money. Think hard about what you stand to gain from applying for a specific company or school. If you tour, you’ll get to travel the world, but you probably won’t see your family for a while. If you take an office job, you might have more stability and predictable work hours, but you might be bored working at a desk. Know your priorities and personal goals, and keep them in mind as those exciting offers come in!

How have your goals and interests shifted since graduation? (from undergrad and grad school?)

My goals and interests have clarified since graduation from UNI. I inadvertently co- founded a company when I was 20. At the time I was just interested in creating something fun with my friends, but that project inspired me to one day found an interdisciplinary arts incubator. Pursuing grad school gave me the basis to lead such an organization, and working at Theatre Aspen is honing those skills. In addition to founding a company, I also want to ensure that it is a creative and supportive environment for staff and artists.

How has theatre changed for you now that you work on the marketing/developing side of the stage?

Working on the marketing and development side of the stage allows me to experience theatre from the audience’s view point. While the creatives, technicians, and performers tell the tale on stage, I help craft the theatregoer’s personal experience. From the first ad you see in the newspaper, to a call to the box office, to cultivating donors and long-time allies for the theatre—all of those pieces create an individualized experience that can impact a huge number of people. If I’m attending a show at another theatre, I’m looking for similar things as an audience member. Though my lens may have shifted a little, I still love to be taken away by a theatre production. Theatre is still magic, even though I know the secrets to most of the tricks.

What advice do you have for current students in school?

The class you hate the most might be the most important one you ever take. I’m going to be honest: I hated my UNI acting class. The professor and my classmates were great, I just didn’t see why I had to take acting when I was focused on production. I’d never audition for a show, and I hated being on stage. Now, I act every day. Whether I’m dealing with a distraught audience member or out to lunch with a high-end donor, focusing on the other allows me to be fully present and enables me to adjust to any situation. In grad school, I hated my e-marketing class. Now I help manage a website and social media. Go to that class you hate. Eventually you’ll be glad you did.

Find people you love to work with and hold on to them. The people you’re living and working with now will probably continue to be part of your life well beyond college. If you work in theatre, you’re sure to cross paths at one time or another. If you’ve found someone you respect and enjoy working with, an opportunity may eventually arise for you to work together again. Keep in touch, watch their careers bloom, and send them a Facebook message every so often. When a position opens up that they’d be perfect for, get them back on your team!

Go big. Teachers say it all the time: this is a safe place to try and fail. Go big with your tries. If you find yourself thinking “What thehell am I doing? Can I really pull this off?”, then you’re probably on the right path.

What do you find exciting about your current position?

The people I work with and the small size of the organization make my job exciting. I have the pleasure of working on a team of insanely talented people. Every day I get to see them kick ass at their jobs, and we often get to kick ass together. We produce huge shows in a tent that gets torn down every winter. Sitting in that house, though, you could easily believe you’reinaregionaltheatreinamajorcity.I’m really proud of the work Theatre Aspen does. We make magic, and it’s really fun.

What’s the most challenging part about your job?

The most challenging thing about my job is the summer schedule. I am a team of one managing four departments. The days get long, and the weekends never really come until the season closes. Though it’s a lot of work, I get to spend that time in one of the most beautiful places in the country with some of my favorite people.

Thank you and all the best!

Tori RezekExternal Relations Officer TheatreAspen