Liz Schwarzwalder, Manager of Finance and Planning at Disney Theatrical Productions
Recently, I was fortunate enough to speak with Liz Schwarzwalder, the Manager of Finance and Planning at Disney Theatrical Productions, a company she joined in 2005. Her focus is on enhancing profitability through pricing optimization and cost management for the company's domestic and international live theater operations. Liz also assesses the economic viability of future productions and growth opportunities. Prior to joining Disney Theatrical Group, Liz was the Associate General Manager of the Helen Hayes Theatre, where she oversaw all finances and day-to-day operations and scouted future productions for the commercial Broadway theater. Liz began her professional career with Lutz and Carr CPA's as an accountant, performing audits and preparing financial statements and tax returns for clients in the arts and entertainment industry. In 2004, Liz co-founded the Theatre Intern Group (TIG), a series of educational and networking opportunities for interns in the theater industry. She continued as the program's director when the American Theatre Wing acquired TIG in 2005. Currently the Theatre Intern Group, still under the umbrella of the American Theatre Wing, has provided over 500 interns with professional development opportunities. Liz was recognized for her work in developing the Theatre Intern Group with an invitation to join the League of Professional Theatre Women, an organization that seeks to promote visibility and increase opportunities for women in the Professional Theatre. Liz recently finished her term serving on the Board of the League and as Chairperson of the Networking Committee. Liz has a Master's Degree in Performing Arts Administration from NYU and an undergraduate dual degree in Accounting and International Business from Muhlenberg College. She is an avid runner and currently leads the Disney Theatrical Group running club. Here is what she had to say:
1. What advice would you give to graduating students? Network as much as possible, and go to any sort of networking opportunities at your school. Or if there is something you are interested in that they don't have in college, seek it out yourself. Look for informational interviews. You can call up a company that you're interested in working for, and you can set up an appointment with them to learn more about the business. There's no pressure there to actually apply for a job, so people at the company will be more likely to want to meet with you since they know you're not looking for anything specific. It gives you the opportunity to learn about the company and to leave a good impression on the person that you're meeting with. So if there is a job that comes up one day in that company, you've already made an impression on them. People respond more to in-person meetings than they do to written resumes.
2. If you could go back in time and speak to your college self what would you say? I would say to take more advantage of some of the things I had in college. I wish that I used college to build up my writing skills a bit more. Even though I work with numbers, it's amazing how often I need to write presentations and reviews. I think I'm so number focused that sometimes the writing is a bit of a struggle, so maybe I would have worked on that a little more.
3. What was your biggest mistake in your career? I can't really pinpoint anything as a mistake. I like to look at things as opportunities that have gotten me to the next place. For example, if I hadn't gone to grad school, I might not have been able to do the internship that got me into Disney that now has me at my full-time job at Disney. Everything leads to something else. As long as you can take those things that might not have been exactly what you want and turn them into an opportunity, I think you'll look back with no regrets.
4. Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? The first job that I had was an internship that I had going into my senior year of college. I found it all by myself on Playbill.com, and I applied as an unpaid intern working for a place called Town Square Productions. They produce shows and events, but what they were working on that summer was general managing A Class Act on Broadway, Pirates of Penzance Off-Broadway, and they were also running a test-pilot program for something called Walkin' Broadway. My internship was with Walkin' Broadway, and my job was to go to the TKTS line and hand people a walk-man. As they were waiting on line to buy their tickets, they could put it on and they'd learn about the history of the Times Square area. So my very first job was to walk up and down that line for two or three afternoons asking people if they wouldn't mind listening to the tape recorder and then filling out a comment card. I guess I made a good impression, which lead to a full time internship, and then I was also promoted to Assistant Company Manager for Pirates of Penzance.
5. What are three habits that contributed to your success? First I would say building good relationships--up and down: with your managers, senior managers, co-workers, interns, and people who report up to you. It's really important to maintain trust so that people are comfortable with you. In my position you tend to have to deliver information that people don't necessarily want to hear, but if people are comfortable with you, they'll trust that that knowledge is in good hands and you won't repeat it. I also think that being proactive is very helpful. Anytime you've worked with your boss for awhile and you can get to the point where you know what they're going to ask for before they ask it, that's always appreciated and a sign of a strong team. Finally, I think being dependable is also really important. Something as simple as showing up on time speaks volumes and being able to meet all your deadlines allows your boss to know they can always count on you. I would also add communication to that list.
6. How did you get your first job? The internship I did at Town Square Playhouse eventually lead to my first real job as the accountant for A Class Act and Pirates of Penzance. My boss at the time, Don France, was able to set up an informational meeting between me and one of the senior partners at the firm Lutz and Carr so I could learn about what they do, and he could meet me. The meeting went well, so when it came time the following year in college to apply for jobs, I went back to them, gave them my resume, got an interview for a junior accountant position, and got the job.
7. What are you working on now? So, right now I am the manager of finance and planning at Disney Theatrical. I work on the forecasting, planning, and expense management for Lion King New York, Mary Poppins New York, both of their tours that are currently going around the United States, productions of Lion King all around the world, i>Mary Poppins in a few other countries, the Beauty and the Beast tour, and productions of Tarzan and Little Mermaid, which had been on Broadway and are currently in licensed productions throughout the world. Basically my job is to make sure those productions can run as long as possible, whether that's managing the ticket prices correctly or the operating prices correctly. We want longevity on all our shows, so we work to identify ways to do that and risks if we don't think the shows are performing to our level of expectations. I also work on new projects like looking at taking on a new title. I run analysis on that and see what the return is for our organization. I think that's my favorite part of the job, looking at the future and what we're planning.