Dallas — Wow! Seven months in. The work only increases as you get further into your Season. We realized when drafting a Square One for this month, we haven’t really talked about how we defined our roles on the business side of the company.
So for this month’s column, we decided to step back and let our Company Manager, Jessie Wallace, speak to her role at IMPRINT, which covers a variety of tasks, one of which is incredibly important and timely in the current environment.
See you next month!
— Ashley and Joe
Hello! Jessie Wallace, IMPRINT’s Company Manager, here. As the person on the management side who has been with Ashley and Joe since IMPRINT’s inception in 2015, it seemed only right that I take up the keyboard this month and share a little about my role on the business side of IMPRINT.
In the middle of our first season, the question that gets posed to me most often is “What is it that you do?” The answer to that on a whole is rather complex, but I’d like to focus on my main function as the Company Manager, specifically one that is very important in our world right now.
The title was first laid before me by Ashley and Joe at a Buffalo Wild Wings before a matinee of Peter and the Starcatcher in 2017 at ONSTAGE in Bedford. At the time, we were uncertain exactly what that meant, but after a little time rolling it around in all three of our heads we came up with the idea of what my role would entail. It was then up to me to figure out if it fit exactly what I wanted my functionality to be within IMPRINT.
In order to move forward, a little personal history is necessary. I began costuming during college (both assisting and designing for plays, musicals, and operas, most of which I was also acting in) and because of this, I could often be found in our tiny Costume Shop (a glorified closet) between classes and any other free time. Cutting out patterns, sewing, folding laundry, or ironing are not always full-brain activities so oftentimes, my fellow students would come sit in the shop with me to talk about their lives, their classes, their problems, whatever happened to be on their minds. While I would offer what little advice I had, mostly I just listened to them and let them work through it themselves (sometimes requiring some leading questions on my part). My favorite of the designers I worked with joked that we should put up a Lucy Van Pelt inspired “The Costumer is In” sign and a can for the standard 5 cent charge whenever someone came in to talk and be heard. Being the introvert from a very loud family, listening to others has been a consistent theme throughout my life, so when the Company Manager’s responsibilities as Ashley, Joe, and I had developed were laid out before me, it seemed like a logical fit.
Now back to the question at hand. What is it that I do for IMPRINT?
To put it simply, my function is to serve as a liaison between the actors, designers, crew, unions, publishers, etc. with the IMPRINT Team. While this does mean executing contracts, managing auditions, making role offers, sending the “thank you for auditioning” email, managing the box office during performances, and many other things, the biggest and most important part of my job is that Talent Liaison portion.
What does that mean? It means I’m the person the talent comes to if there’s an issue they don’t feel comfortable bringing up to the director, stage manager, etc. and I am then tasked with presenting the issue to my team, or any other necessary parties, with complete anonymity. I serve as a safe place for anyone to come to with any concern. I listen and make sure everyone knows they have a voice and it will be heard. I will make sure it is heard. It was important to the entire IMPRINT team from the beginning that we wanted to provide a safe place for all artists — and part of doing that is having a designated person who advocates for them.
Why is this important?
“Real people, not actors.” This phrase has become a bit of a joke amongst theatre people as we have all heard them on commercials, but it is actually a good representation of a larger problem. Actors are people, directors are people, designers are people, technicians are people, and we all deserve to be treated as such. In this #MeToo/#TimesUp post-Weinstein era, I can’t help but wonder what could have been different if someone like me was available to those people who were silenced, to those who were afraid, to those who were used.
I want to be very clear, however, that it is not I alone who is devoted to eradicating this struggle in theatre. IMPRINT was founded on a basis of ensemble-based work and in order to accomplish that, everyone involved must feel safe, protected, and validated. It is a part of our contract and we intend to use the Dallas Theatre Standards the Not In Our House Movement is developing (which I am participating in) in the future.
It is not just words on a page, though, any issue brought to me, or anyone on the team, will be taken with utmost seriousness and fitting action will be taken swiftly and as discreetly as possible and with complete anonymity for whoever lobbies the complaint. As Ashley and Joe have stated over and over, this business is all about the team you have supporting you. When a hard decision needs to be made, our team immediately comes together and has an open discussion until we come to a decision on a course of action. No one likes making tough calls, but they are a part of any business. I am truly confident in the team we have and know they will stand behind the principles we have established to be a safe zone for anyone who comes through our doors.
While this situation has not occurred yet, and I hope it never does, I always give a quick talk at the beginning of the rehearsal process for each show that goes something along these lines:
“I am IMPRINT’s Company Manager which means that any issue you may have, no matter how great or how small, you can always come to me. By all means, if you feel comfortable, go to your Stage Manager or Director, but know that I am never hard to reach. Text, call, email, Facebook message, snap, send smoke signals, whatever works for you. I’m on your side and I am your advocate.”
Undoubtedly, that is much more eloquent than what I actually say since I’m always better when someone writes my lines for me, but that’s the gist of it. Since I am also our resident costume designer (I wear a lot of hats), I am present at a lot of rehearsals and interact with the talent regularly. I do my best to be an approachable person to each and every person who comes through our doors. I can only hope my presence and general demeanor only furthers the talent’s faith in me and IMPRINT as a whole.
This particular position and the necessity of it was bred out of Ashley’s intimacy training and both of our experiences as women in this business and, well, life in general. Ashley has been educating actors, directors, and many more on the necessity of establishing safe practices when actors are required to engage in intimate acts on stage for years now in coordination with her Fight Directing. Both are practices that are sadly misused in many theatres and we at IMPRINT want to make sure we are never on the offending side of this issue.
Looking just at our upcoming production, Murder Ballad by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash, there are a lot of very intimate moments and action sequences that require the actors to feel safe and that their voices are heard when they don’t. Thanks to Ashley’s training and history, I have no doubt that the actors will feel this way, but we all know that is not always the case in this business. While I have faith in our team, having someone specifically designated to hear people out and advocate for their side while keeping them anonymous, I hope, allows everyone involved to breathe easier stepping into a show with us.
It is important to us that people know IMPRINT as a safe place. My job as Company Manager and Talent Liaison helps us to do just that. We weren’t sure in the beginning how my role would be defined, but now that we are moving, I’m honored to provide such a resource, and don’t take the responsibility lightly. While we all hope that this won’t be a constant conversation in the years to come as people hold themselves and are held to higher standards, that is not the case in our current world. The casual mistreatment of actors and technicians by other actors, directors, designers, audience members, will not be tolerated at IMPRINT. I can only speak for us, but I know many other theatres in Dallas and the world are seeking to change the way things have been to a better tomorrow. I look forward to that day and am glad to be one small puzzle piece within the changing times.
So, what is it I do as the company manager at IMPRINT? I listen.
“The company manager is in.”
» Ashley H. White and Joe Messina are co-artistic directors of IMPRINT theatreworks
» Square One runs on the second Monday of the month
PREVIOUSLY IN SQUARE ONE
- Septempber: Should We Start a Theater?
- October: Taking the Next Steps
- November: Planning the Season
- December: Finding the Right Space, Part 1