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Interview with Chad M. Bauman, Director of Communications for Arena Stage

Chelsea-Anne interviews theater marketing guru Chad M. Bauman, Director of Communications for Washington DC's Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. logo

Chad M. Bauman, Director of Communications for Washington DC's Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.

Chad M. Bauman reminds us of an aspect of theater that is often overlooked: it isn't easy. As the Director of Communications for Washington DC's Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Bauman supervises the marketing, media relations, publications, sales, and front of house departments. He received his MFA in Producing at the California Institute of the Arts, and his B.S. Ed in Speech and Theatre Education, summa cum laude at the Honors College of Missouri State University.

He holds the accomplishment of transitioning Arena through a two and a half year period while a brand new $135 million, three theater complex was being built. He worked on the Broadway transfers of, "Next to Normal," "33 Variations," and "Looped," during this time. He stresses the importance of asking yourself if the theater industry is something you can see yourself immersed in for the rest of your life. For Bauman, the answer is, "yes."

What advice do you give to graduating students? "One, I would ask them to make sure that they actually want to work in the theater. If they can imagine themselves doing anything else, they probably should do something else. I ask them the same question over and over again: Are you absolutely 100% positive? If you can imagine yourself doing anything else, that's the path you should probably take because theater is low-salary, high work hours…you have to have a passion for it. If you don't, not only are you going to be disgruntled later in your career, you're also not going to be good at it."

If you could go back in time and speak to your "college self," what would you say? "Hmm. Probably something very similar. I would say be prepared for hard work. Being in non-profit theater in itself is hard work, being in commercial theater as well is hard work, and doing both at a moment where budgets are getting cut, and the economy is bad, makes it doubly hard work. I would just warn myself that you are choosing a lifestyle of hard work."

This is a little intimidating. But it's true, so I'm glad you're saying it. "I don't want to sugarcoat anything; it is true."

What was your biggest mistake in your career? "Oh goodness. Well, I probably made the biggest mistake in my current job when I was on the job for about two months. I'm going into my 5th year at Arena. In 2007, I joined the company basically to transition our audiences [There are nearly 300,000 people that come to Arena Stage.] I decided to give an exclusive to the Washington Post. Because we did an exclusive, we couldn't communicate with our own ticket buyers. You can imagine when the Washington Post hit their doorstop that Friday, and they hadn't heard anything from us and they read it for the first time in the paper. They were really pissed off at me."

Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? "My first paying job in the theater, I was a stage manager. That was at a summer stock theater in Missouri. I realized I didn't want to be a professional stage manager because you have to travel all over the world. If you think theater is hard, touring theater is 20,000 times harder. I went to graduate school; right out of graduate school I was the Director of Marketing and Communications for Virginia Stage Company in northern Virginia. It had a 2.4 million dollar budget. Large enough where I could experiment a little and learn, but not so large that I was in over my head."

What are three habits that contributed to your success? "1) It's not rocket science. I work harder than anybody else. I'm in the office at eight o'clock in the morning and I leave the office at nine o'clock at night. Whether that's sustainable or not, that's a different view. I have a tough work ethic. 2) I'm decisive. I find that some people in my position struggle with decisions, and a lot of the times it isn't necessarily about making the right decision; it's about making decisions. If you're struggling to make a decision and you're in limbo for months upon months upon months, that's worse than thinking the wrong decision. I'm quick and decisive. 3) My training was as a producer, and so, I might head marketing and communications, but I understand how to run a company. When I'm working with development or production, I have a clear understanding about the overall aspect, and I think that gives me a broader perspective."

What are you working on now? "At Arena, I supervise a department of about fifty people. The department is responsible for bringing in about $15 million in revenue. Right now what I'm working on is how the hell we're going to get $15 million in this economy [he chuckles.] We've also seen really rapid growth. In FY [fiscal year] 10, we brought in $5.9 million, and in FY 12, we're looking to bring in $15 million. Growth is good. But when you're accelerating at that speed, you also have to be very prudent about your growth. You can actually grow too fast too quickly."

My Sum-Up

I enjoyed talking with Chad, as he was very honest. His realistic portrayal of the theater industry is refreshing. And besides, I can't help but be impressed by the fact that Washington Life Magazine named him one of the most influential leaders under 40 in our nation's capital.

1. Get Serious: Ask yourself if this is what you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life.

2. Be Prepared for Hard Work: Life in the theater is long hours and low wages. Yet it's very rewarding.

3. Be Decisive: Committing to the decisions you make--and make these decisions promptly and precisely.

4. Apply Randomly: Keeping your options open is key.

5. Check out Bauman's blog at for more ways to learn about what goes on in professional arts marketing.


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