Steve Winston, International Theater Consultant
Steve Winston is inspiring, energetic, and great to talk with; he stresses the importance of exploring every opportunity given to you, since you never know where you might end up later in your career. Winston worked for Broadway Across America (BAA) and its predecessors for twenty-five years. He managed Broadway tours and has served as Director of Programming as well as Chief Operating Officer of the North American Theatrical Division. His awards include Broadway League's 2008 Presenter of the Year Award and the 2010 Star of Touring Broadway Award. Now semi-retired, Winston spends his time consulting in international theater.
What advice do you give to graduating students? Get an internship. And the reason I say that is because unlike any other field, in theater your advancements are based on who you know and what your connections are. It's assumed that you're going to work incredibly hard and incredibly well at what you do. But an internship not only gets you right in the heart of things and actually doing the work but connects you with a million people.
If you could go back in time and speak to your college self, what would you say? I would say be open in every possibility and opportunity. If you have a specific employment path in mind, odds are that you'll be quick to achieve. If you're absolutely open to any opportunity that comes along, you never know where the road might take you, especially when you're starting out. There is a lot of opportunity out there, and you have to be open to whatever, because you never know what path you're going to end up taking.
What was your biggest mistake in your career? In order to achieve the hills, you have to have the valleys. I wouldn't identify anything as my biggest mistake, but I think the best opportunity I've had from mistakes is learning from them. When Rafiki lands young Simba on the head with his stick, and then all of a sudden the next time he does it, young Simba is smart enough not to get hit ahead, it's simple but quite effective. I think the best thing to do is that you will find some sticks along the way, but using these as learning opportunities is a great way of doing it.
Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? My first job in the theater was at 890 Studios, which is a rehearsal studio in Manhattan owned and operated by Michael Bennet. It was a great first job because I got to meet a million people, which gets me to the other part which was: 'What was your big break?' In my freshman year of college, I was a tap dancing sailor in, Anything Goes, and one of the other guys, who was also a tap dancing sailor, came into the rehearsal one day and said they had a position open. He was working where I ended up spending twenty-five years of my working life, at PACE Theatrical Group.
What are three habits that contributed to your success? 1) The ability to adjust to change, because there's a lot of it. 2) Persistence. 3) And keeping calm in the face of adversity.
How do you get you first job? I did an internship my last semester of college in New York for a producer. People in the office set me up on about twenty interviews with different people around town, and only one of them had a job and I was lucky enough to get that job [at 890 Studios.] As many people as you can meet, it's a great thing. It provides employment and friendship down the road.
What are you working on now? I'm semi-retired. I do international theater every once in a while. Again, it gets back to who you know. People I've worked with for twenty years have a big business in Las Vegas and Singapore and Brazil, and they've asked me in the past year to go to Singapore and Brazil, and I've loved it. It's only for short periods of time, but that's what I wanted. They're starting up a new business in Brazil with a partner, and I'm helping with the groundwork on being able to do that, and basically I'm drawing on experience in the past twenty-five years in the business and working with them to accomplish the tasks they need to get the business up and running.
Out of curiosity, did you study theater while you were in school? I did. I was in a double major in theater and business at Illinois Wesleyan University. It was sort of a combined degree of arts administration with an emphasis in theater. There were only three of us on campus taking it, and therefore it was really designed for our usage. It was a small enough university that my advisor worked with me to develop the program, which was great.
1. Get An Internship: There's nothing quite like real-world experience. Plus, it gives you a chance to explore an opportunity you may not have had otherwise.
2. Be Persistent: Follow-through is a skill not to be overlooked.
3. Take Advantage of Opportunities: Because you never know where they may lead you to later in your career.
4. Start Your Own Major: Okay, okay, that might be a little difficult. But don't be afraid to get together with your advisors to see what additional academic options are available. You might be surprised.