Chelsea-Anne Cymrot, junior at USC and TMU contributor
Don Summa is vice president of the theater and dance public relations firm Richard Kornberg & Associates. He headed the publicity campaigns for a multitude of shows, such as Rent, Hairspray, I Am My Own Wife, Long Day's Journey Into Night, and the 50th Anniversary production of Death of a Salesman, to name just a few. Summa represented numerous theater companies--such as New York Theatre Workshop, Transport Group, and Naked Angels, and he previously worked for a large talent agency. He received his English degree from Harvard and his masters in business at Yale. Summa suggests that straying from a linear career path is perhaps the most rewarding way to excel in one's profession.
What advice do you give to graduating students? "I think the best advice I can give is to try different things. To realize that a successful career doesn't necessarily take a linear path. It's great to be focused, and it's really kind of an amazing gift when you have that kind of focus and you know exactly the one thing you want to do. But for most people, that's not really the case. My specific advice for people who are interested in the theater would probably be to get your foot in the door. To find a job doing something in professional theater that's near where you want to be and then to work your away around once you're there. To get the first job is really the trick."
If you could go back in time and speak to your college self, what would you say? "That's a really hard question. I think I'd probably say the same thing I'd say to most college kids, which is to not be afraid, to be more confident. And to take more chances. To break free from your child-self and become an adult and do your thing."
What was your biggest mistake in your career? "I think the biggest mistake for me was not to take chances and do other things. I think it's easy to get really comfortable in a job or a position or a company, but I also think it's not really the best thing for a career. A career should also be a learning process, just the way school is. When you're just actually doing one thing for a very long time, you're not learning as much as you can learn as if you had ventured out and done different things."
Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? "My first job in theater was at the Public Theatre in New York at the New York Shakespeare Festival when Joe Papp was still alive and still the head of the organization. I think that's sort of another good lesson, is that it wasn't an ideal situation but it was a good enough one, so I took it, and it became better instantly. I think my other break was when I went to work on my first production of Rent. I learned so much in the first few months. I was the publicist for the original Broadway production."
What are three habits that contributed to your success? "1) Honesty. Because I think that when you're a publicist, you sort of need to represent work honestly. 2) Curiosity. 3) Good taste. I think I have a good, educated taste."
How do you get you first job? "My first job was at the Public Theater, I found out through a friend that there was an opening for a part-time job, and I applied and got it. It quickly became a full time job within the first week. I sort of got lucky there because I really didn't know anybody who worked in the theater. When I found it, I took it because I knew it was a good job, especially at that time with Joe Papp around."
What are you working on now? "I'm a publicist for theater. I'm working on the new revival of Rent. I represent the New York Theatre Workshop, which has a new musical called One that opens next month. I also just opened another new musical called Queen of the Mist, which is by the Theatre Company Transport Group, and those are the three main things I've been working on."
What would you say is your favorite part about being a publicist? "I guess the nicest part of it is that when you discover something or someone that you really like and you're able to foster it along and help it grow and gain an audience and/or a career. It's very satisfying, to take something from zero to a great success. It's satisfying when it's done properly and done well."
1. Mix It Up: It's okay to deviate from a linear career path. Contrary to the belief that climbing the hierarchical corporate ladder as fast as possible is the best thing to do, our success can be also be measured by our variety of experiences. It's actually beyond beneficial to delve into differing experiences before settling upon the one career path that suits you best.
2. Take Risks: It's so easy to become complacent and settle into the day-to-day routine of a job or internship. Don't be afraid to take that extra step.
3. Find Your Confidence: Take pride in your accomplishments, and remember to pat yourself on the back every once in a while.
3. Be Honest: Honesty is the best policy. An open mind and an honest work ethic will undoubtedly be respected by everyone around you and will therefore be beneficial in the long run.
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