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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with the Arena Stage Media Relations Team

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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with the Arena Stage Media Relations Team
The dynamic trio that make up the Arena Stage Media Relations team.
L-R Caroline Austin, Laurn McMillen, and Samantha Schneider.

My fellow readers, today's column begins with some questions for you . Have you ever thought about how theatres get audiences to attend their productions? Generally the first thing you might see after a season is announced is what's known as a press release for each individual production. Have you ever wondered who puts out that information?

When you see an interview with a particular performer or production person on TV someone had to make the pitch for that interview to happen.

My point here is that without today's subjects doing what they do so well, one of the area's top theatres very well might not have any audience for the many productions they produce each year.

Lauren McMillen (LM), Samantha Schneider (SS), and Caroline Austin (CA) are living their theatre lives at Arena Stage making up the theatre's powerhouse Media Relations team. Anything about a production that you see in print or online or on TV is generated by one or in some cases all three of these incredibly talented ladies.

Lauren McMillen is Arena Stage's publicist. Samantha Schneider is Arena's Communications Associate and Caroline Austin is Arena's Media Relations Fellow. All three ladies work together on many projects throughout the season. As you will read it is truly a team effort a lot of the time.

As you most likely know, Arena Stage has three performance spaces in it. There is the Fichandler which was named after Arena Stage's founder Zelda Fichandler and is in the round. There is the Kreeger which is a standard proscenium space and lastly we have the Kogod Cradle. The latter is also proscenium but some of the seating is flexible depending on the show. It's rough enough publicizing one show at a time so think about what happens when you have to promote multiple shows all at once. Read on to see how Lauren, Samantha and Caroline keep it all together.

I am often baffled by an audience's non-knowledge of what it takes to put up a production. I've heard things like "Wow that was amazing! How did one person (meaning the director) do all of that him/herself?" No one does it alone in the arts. Trust me on this one.

Next time you read an item about a show at Arena Stage or any other theatre for that matter, think about the work that went into it. You will then come to appreciate the work of Lauren, Samantha, Caroline, and every other publicist in town that much more. With all their efforts, you can be in the know about what's happening in what is the rich culture of DC theatre at all times. And that my friends is how you live your theatre lives to the fullest.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with the Arena Stage Media Relations Team
L-R Caroline Austin, Lauren McMillen and Samantha Schneider all glammed up for the holidays at Arena Stage.
Photo courtesy of Arena Stage.

Did each of you major in some kind of marketing in college? Was it marketing for the arts or another type?

CA: My degree is in business administration with a major in marketing and a minor in theater.

LM: I majored in broadcast journalism with a minor in Spanish at the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University.

SS: I majored in broadcast journalism from the school of Media and Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill.

Where did each of you work before coming to Arena Stage?

CA: This is my first job. I graduated from William & Mary in May 2019, but I was an intern at Arena Stage in the development department during the summer of 2018.

LM: I worked in local news for three years. Before coming to Arena Stage I worked at WDTV, which is a CBS affiliate, in Bridgeport, WV where I was a general assignment reporter and weekend anchor for two years and the executive producer for one year.

SS: After graduation I came straight here for their fellowship program and was brought on full time this past August.

Lauren- It's hard enough publicizing just one production so when Arena Stage has more than one production running at a time how does it all work? Does each of you take lead on a specific show or is it a team effort for all of the productions?

It is definitely a team effort when it comes to publicizing all of our shows. As a three-person team we work to create a media strategy for each show. We then split up different pitches and angles by reaching out to various journalists individually. Prioritizing is a major component that comes into play when we have three shows going on at once. You also have to pay attention to what is going on in the news cycle and stay up to date on current events because that will impact how you craft your pitches. It can get a bit hectic at times when all of the theater spaces are full, but it is also a lot of fun and gratifying.

Samantha - You started out at Arena Stage as a Media Relations Fellow before holding your current position of Communications Associate.

Caroline- You are currently the Media Relations Fellow.

Of all the theatres you could have applied to, what was it about Arena Stage that most appealed to you?

SS: I didn't know much about Arena when I applied. I was actually in D.C. for a networking trip and was still fairly confident I would go into producing for news. However, when we were in D.C., I spoke to a woman about why finding a way to combine journalism and theatre would be the dream job. She recommended I speak with the publicist at Arena Stage because her role was exactly that, forming newsworthy story ideas and working with journalists and artists to make those stories happen. We had a great conversation and she recommended I apply for the theater's fellowship. After that I did a ton of research on Arena and realized the work they do is unmatched. Each production is carefully picked to ensure it's timely and will make their audiences think. I knew there was no better opportunity than to learn from this establishment, its leaders and its artists.

CA: After graduating from high school I saw Dear Evan Hansen and I took advantage of the pay-your-age program and that show made me fall in love with Arena Stage. The fact that this theater did a show that is relatable to everyone, regardless of your age, is something that I admired. I also love how Arena makes accessibility a priority. Additionally, I was an intern here last summer and I had the time of my life. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming regardless if you were an intern or the lead of the show and I knew I wanted to come back to such a supportive work environment.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with the Arena Stage Media Relations Team
L-R Caroline Austin's mom Lindsey, Kelli Youngman, Michael John Hughes from the Arena Stage production of Newsies , Playwright Ken Ludwig (closest to center), Lauren McMillen, Samantha Schneider, Caroline Austin, and Caroline Austin's dad Bill at an Arena Stage organized event for the USO.
Photo courtesy of Arena Stage.

What would you say has been the most memorable experience you've had thus far working in the media relations department at Arena Stage?

CA: The most rewarding experience I have had so far is when I organized an event with cast members from Newsies and Ken Ludwig to volunteer at the USO. My parents and I normally volunteer there so it was great to include more people to volunteer at such a fantastic organization.

LM: I always enjoy when a new cast comes in and we get to meet them and take them to broadcasts and radio interviews. It is especially fun when we have a musical going on and we get to take the actors to do live performances in a studio. It's always a pleasure getting to know the cast and creative team members. We have met so many fascinating people through this job and it is so interesting to learn about their life, career and passions. Another part of the job that I love is also working with our journalists, getting to know them better and building worthwhile relationships with them.

SS: Hmm, well I love the broadcasts, specifically when we can bring the news stations to Arena and give them a live performance. However, the most memorable moment was probably when we were casting two local D.C. dogs for our production of Anything Goes. We had an open call for pups in D.C. and let me be the first to tell you, some of these dogs were more talented than me. The two winners were Olly and Maximillion, ugh they were adorable. Wow that was a good day and there were so many opportunities for press because who doesn't love puppies? Oh, and there were the cutest pupcakes for each puppy!

Lauren- I imagine when a show gets a good set of reviews it's easier to promote. When a show doesn't fare as well as you would have liked how do you market it to sell tickets?

We treat every show the same. A good review always helps but relying on features, broadcasts, radio interviews, social media takeovers and any and all press is the driving focus.

What advice can you give to someone just starting that wants to have a career in publicity for the theatre?

CA: Talk to everyone. Anyone and everyone can help you grow and learn. Don't be afraid to reach out to people and don't be afraid of rejection. Also, be a positive person. There's a lot of stress that comes with this job so your spirits need to stay high!

LM: Learn to make good connections and relationships. The more people that you know and speak with the better. Get to know the journalists that you work with. Read their articles, find out what interests them and get to know them in-person. Also, develop good writing and editing skills and be creative. Also, you must have a passion for theater!

SS: Be friendly, take chances and use all your creativity. Everything we do is about finding the story that pulls the reader in and finding that journalist that would be perfect for that story. Get to know your writers and the publications in and outside of your area. The job is so much fun, but don't be afraid of rejection. Approach every opportunity with confidence and the willingness to learn. Finally, try to make connections everywhere you go because that's when you'll meet the most incredible and passionate people who will want to work with you and your client/show.

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