One Thousand Words on Schmoozing vs. Speaking

One of the parts of my job that I’ve come to truly enjoy is talking to people about the community performing arts center I lead.

I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do. In fact, I thought booking the shows would be my favorite thing, but it’s towards the bottom of the list.

Maybe it’s because talking about the organization comes so easily to me. It’s not hard to talk about things you love.

And I do love it, because this particular performing arts center has been a part of my life since I was six or seven.

I saw my first live theater performance in the venue I now run, and how can you not love the place where you first discovered your life’s infatuation?

Everyone I share that little tidbit with agrees that it’s a pretty cool circle to have made.

And after college, I stage managed and directed shows there, too.

The place is in my blood

Over the past eighteen months or so, we’ve been engaged in a fundraising campaign. I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking to donors about what it is we do and why it is important to the community, sharing my stories and those of others who perform in or attend shows at the center.

Those intimate one on one talks have been fun. Those are the conversations I’ve enjoyed.

Last night was a bit more stressful, though.

We hosted a dinner on stage for our biggest donors celebrating the fact that we had reached our campaign goal.

It was glittery and bustling and utterly exhausting.

I would have gladly spent an hour talking to every person there over a cup of coffee rather than have to talk to them all over the course of three hours.

But they seemed to enjoy the bustle more than I did.

Strangely, the least stressful part of the evening was making a speech.

I’ve always been like that, though. I’m better talking to a large group of people than I am making small talk about nothing to one person.

I either need a real purpose for the conversation, like fundraising, or to be talking to 100 people to be comfortable.

I think my speech went over quite well. Many people said they enjoyed it and one even told me she teared up a little bit.

So, even if it’s cheating because I wrote this yesterday, here’s my speech. I changed the names of the people and switched the venue name to “the performing arts center.”

It’s no secret where I work, you just have to google me to figure it out. But for some reason I hesitate to call the venue by name in my blog.

Just a quirk, I guess.

But I wanted to post the speech anyway. I’m quite proud of how it turned out.

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I’d like to start by echoing Jack’s (our board president’s) gratitude for your support of the performing arts center (PAC) and the fundraising campaign. Every person here tonight, along with hundreds of others, has played a major role in our success and on our future.

Over the course of the campaign, we have come to refer to the PAC as a three legged stool, an analogy coined by campaign co-chair John Doe. We played with other images: a house with many rooms, a tricycle (I think that one was my suggestion) but always came back to that stool.

The concept is that the PAC, as a building and as an organization, is the seat of the stool and it is supported by three important legs which represent each of our program areas: Arts, Education and Community.

I think when you become intimately involved with an organization you tend to get a little jaded.

And I admit, there are some nights when I think “ugh, another show?” Being the Executive Director, I get overly focused on the all work that must be done in order get that show to the stage.

But then I walk into the theater during one of those rare times when nothing is happening, either to borrow a screwdriver from the toolbox out back or to just get a minute of calm. And there’s something about the dark and the silence of the empty theater that fills me with awe at the magic contained in each of those sturdy, practical programmatic stool legs.

You know that saying “If these walls could talk?” Well, I know these walls would have a lot to say, but I think it’s the stage beneath our feet that is the real story teller in here.

For instance, this bit of the stage where I’m standing would tell you that once, in 2006, the legendary tap dancer Savion Glover performed an amazing riff walk right here.

And over there on stage right, former music teacher and PAC technical director Jim Doe performed “If I Were a Rich Man,” in not just one but two New England Community Theatre productions of Fiddler on the Roof.

And upstage just a few feet is where a fifth grader made her stage debut, playing Becky in the South Hill School Drama Club performance of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

The Indigo Girls stood center stage to play one of their biggest hits, Closer to Fine to a sold out crowd who knew every single word and sang along as loud as they could, filling the theater with an energy that was almost visible.

Over there, up stage left, is where Joe Doe, the man responsible for bringing live performance back to the performing arts center in the late sixties sits to play the trumpet with the New England Community Band, which he has done for decades.

And then there’s tonight, where the stage is literally supporting many of those who have supported it throughout the years.

So while these boards have countless stories like these to tell, tonight they would like me to tell you “thank you.” Thank you for believing in them.

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