Alyssa Baumgardner is American Stage’s 19-20 Arts Administration Apprentice, and will be acting in, as well as producing and marketing for, the 19-20
ASFWD Next Generation Apprentice Cohort’s Original Work, FIVE TIMES AROUND.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
There is something extraordinary about being an administrator and a producer in the arts. It is an occupation that is entirely unique in the fact that your role is to manage the unmanageable. Art in itself is something that is almost impossible to define because it takes on so many forms and is expressed in so many different ways. Artists are almost as undefinable because they are people who inexplicably are born with something to say and spend their whole lives attempting to find the right way to communicate it to the rest of humanity in a way they will understand. And so, to be an administrator you have to have an unconditional love for the things that you will never be capable of defining and have unwavering patience and care for those people who are desperately trying to find the right way to share their message with the world. I believe there is no greater calling.
When I first got to American Stage, I did not fully understand how expansive and, at times, overwhelming arts administration can be. In my time as the arts administration apprentice I have gained experience in marketing shows, working on development initiatives that bring in contributed income, event planning and logistics, if you want to make an impression and impress visitors or clients in your event then cheap table runners for sale is for you, community outreach and education initiatives, alongside the day to day management of office procedures and protocols. I would have been entirely lost if it was not for the incredible Advancement team at American Stage that invested their time and resources into my education and never once made me feel small or insignificant because of my lack of knowledge or experience.This immersive education in how a non-profit theatre company runs deepened my sense of pride in being a part of an industry that, at its core, is entrepreneurial in nature and collaborative in practice.
Being a part of the apprentice cohort is an incredibly unique experience that I don’t think many people get to have. Working with my fellow apprentices was so important to my time at American Stage, because they rounded out my perspective. It was easy to have days where I thought about nothing but getting grants submitted or planning the run of an event for a fundraiser, but when I would meet with the apprentices and talk to them they would remind me why I was doing those things. I was writing a grant to support the outreach youth classes our education apprentice was teaching and I was helping to plan a fundraiser that would ensure the continued Mainstage programming that the acting & production apprentices were contributing to.
Being the producer and handling the marketing for the apprentice cohort’s original work was a challenge that I took on with so much joy and pride because I wanted to use the skills I learned to be able to help them create something that was truly their own. There were many obstacles that immediately came to mind as soon as we began the project like: “How do you market a piece that isn’t written yet?” “How do you manage your own peers?” “How do you contribute to the creative process while still remaining objective as a producer?” These questions swirled in my head and ended up on post-it notes that covered my walls like a map of my anxiety. I then remembered the story Ann Lammot’s tells in her book “Bird by Bird.” Her father tells her younger brother that the “impossible” task of writing a report on birds is not so complicated, he just has to take it bird by bird. So question by question I found solutions and obstacle by obstacle I found new tactics to overcome them.
March 13 threw a new challenge into the mix that no one saw coming: a pandemic. To be honest, the apprentice original work was not my first concern at the time. I was worried about my parents in Colorado, I was worried about not having a way to get home if I needed to, I was worried about finding another job after this apprenticeship was over and, before I knew it, my worries were stacked to the ceiling and instead of taking them “bird by bird” I sat hopeless and confused. Then our apprentice cohort began to meet over Zoom and we decided we were still going to create the piece even though it would have to be virtual. As you can imagine, the problems began to pour in again, but instead of attempting to solve them all on my own, I remembered I had a team. I had an extraordinary group of apprentices that were determined to create art in the face of unprecedented challenges and I had an organization that was unwavering in its commitment to support and encourage us. So we all took it “bird by bird” and soon we had a plan for how to create a work of art in the middle of a pandemic and as I created this work with the apprentices I noticed that my tower of worries began to decrease into a more manageable stack.
In the midst of a pandemic that has shaken the entire entertainment industry, I believe it would be easy and justifiable for young professionals like myself to abandon ship and find more stability in other industries. However, I believe that would be a horrible shame because we need arts administrators and producers now more than ever. We need people who have unconditional love for the undefinable, because currently the definition of art is expanding and evolving with every virtual program and every socially distanced performance. We need people who have an unwavering patience and care for people who are trying to communicate with the world, because the world will need those people’s words to heal. We need people who are willing to take every day “bird by bird” till they can create something beautiful. I hope FIVE TIMES AROUND and the utter moxie behind its creation inspires those young professionals and those not-so-young professionals to not give up. “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
This is an episodic virtual piece, with a new episode released on American Stage’s YouTube channel each day of the week at noon, Aug. 17 – 21.
Audiences can subscribe to American Stage’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/americanstage, to be notified when new episodes are released.
American Stage is proud to present this original work to our community at no charge. Audiences are encouraged to donate in support of American Stage to keep Virtual Stories accessible for all in the community. Donate at americanstage.org/donate.
Learn more at americanstage.org/five
About ASFWD: The Next Generation
As an arts leader, American Stage is committed to engaging and guiding the next era of theatre artists and arts audiences, administrators and advocates. The ASFWD Apprenticeship program provides on-the-job training from theatre professionals and valuable hands-on experience. The Next Generation programs shape young people as individuals, while also shaping the future of Tampa Bay, by cultivating an engaged community and a creative and competent workforce.