The arts and culture industries remain largely at a standstill in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, affecting millions of workers in an already delicate ecosystem. The Broadway Community Project, from industry veterans Greg Schaffert, Tiffani Gavin, Situation Interactive, and Playbill, was developed to shed light on the myriad fields and roles that go into making the curtain rise.
In the Broadway Community Project series, we shine a spotlight on the faces you may not see on stage, but are nevertheless critical in creating and maintaining a theatre production. These are just some of the arts workers who have put their stamp on an industry that contributed over $14.7 billion to the New York economy in 2019 and $877 billion in value added nationally; these are just some of the arts workers in need of relief, even as Broadway theatres prepare to welcome back audiences.
Today, meet Marcia Pendelton, a group sales and audience development specialist. As founder and president of Walk Tall Girl Productions, Pendelton aims to make the arts—specifically theatre—accessible to the widest possible audience. Through partnering with outside vendors and neighborhood partners, Pendelton facilitates large group reservations to productions, creating a sense of comfort and shared experience for those who are not regular theatregoers. This helps build a stronger, more diverse audience for tomorrow. Among the myriad shows Pendelton has worked on are Motown, Jitney, Fela!, and the 2008 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Click here to explore the Broadway Community Project map in full (or submit yourself to be added).
Name: Marcia Pendelton
Title: President, Walk Tall Girl Productions
How did you get your start in your field?
I got what amounted to a producing job at a tiny Philadelphia theatre because I thought it would be a good idea to immerse myself in all aspects of the art, craft, and business of theatre as I pursued a life as an artist. I discovered that I loved working behind the scenes more than I loved being on stage.
Did you have a mentor while developing your career?
The late Albert Benzwie Hirschorn hired me at a place called Theatre Centre Philadelphia. Physically, it was a dump, but it was the most magical place I had ever entered. I knew nothing about the business of show, but Albert taught me how to move a play from the page to the stage. He also allowed me to make mistakes, encouraged my creativity, and ignited my passion for theatre. Albert, a Holocaust survivor, was probably the most compassionate human being I'd ever met. I learned about equity, diversity, and inclusion in the late 20th century before we knew what to call it, because the practice thrived at Theatre Centre.
What is a typical day like for you on the job?
Just like we create agendas for meetings, I create an agenda for the day. I prioritize what I have to get done. Lots of time is spent researching information, making contacts (online, by phone, and via Zoom), following up leads, introducing people to ways to experience theatre during a pandemic, and now letting people know that live theatre is on the way back!
What's your professional life like during the coronavirus pandemic?
As theatre pivoted to the digital space, so did audience development. Because I'd spent years cultivating an online community, I've been able to continue an ongoing conversation with that community about digital content, which starts with my weekly e-newsletter. I've created many programs and events to cultivate audiences. This experience enabled me to become a content creator in the virtual space. Finally, I was presented with the opportunity to host and produce a weekly arts, culture, and entertainment program for WBAI 99.5 FM. Backstage Stories has quickly become one of the most popular shows on the air—and soon to be a podcast, too!
What are three skills someone in your position must possess?
The ability to see the big picture. The ability to establish relationships that are transformational rather than transactional. The ability to make 10 cents behave like a dollar.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? The most rewarding?
The most challenging and most rewarding aspects of my job are the same: Figuring out how not only to make a difference, but to be the difference.
What do you wish more people knew about your line of work?
The importance of meeting people where they are. And research. I do an incredible amount of research and follow-up. Additionally, I read a lot to gain social, political, cultural, economic, and historical context about the shows I work on.
How would you like to see your field evolve in the future?
I'd like to see more arts administration programs for undergraduates. I also believe that group sales, audience development, and marketing professionals should also be culturally competent. That cultural competency can begin with anti-bias and anti-racism training.
Do you have a favorite from your time on the job?
I created a promotion for Motown The Musical that involved a local radio station, the Tom Joyner Foundation and the Tom Joyner Morning Show, which at the time was the number one syndicated radio show among African-Americans. I arranged with Motown's director, Charles Randolph-Wright, Mr. Joyner's selection as the audience member who joined "Diana Ross" on stage to sing the chorus of "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" as a solo. When "Diana" asked Mr. Joyner his name, his response was "Tony Award."
What does it mean to you to be a part of the theatre community?
I truly cherish the sense of community shared by theatre makers. Our commitment to each other was (and still is) so incredibly mind-blowing during the health, racial, and economic pandemics.