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Interview with Director of The Geffen Playhouse Ken Novice

Chelsea-Anne speaks with the Managing Director of The Geffen Playhouse Ken Novice. logo

Ken Novice, Managing Director at The Geffen Playhouse

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ken Novice, who is the Managing Director of The Geffen Playhouse. The Geffen Playhouse is one of the most noteworthy not-for-profit theaters on the west coast. Located in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, the Geffen offers five plays per season on the main stage and three to four plays on the second stage. Known for having well known film/television actors in their productions, the Geffen has seen appearances from Neil Patrick Harris, Rita Wilson, Alicia Silverstone, and Jason Alexander, just to name a few, in their productions in recent years.

When it comes to theater management, Novice is nothing close to what his last name suggests. He has worked in the professional theater world for 25 years on more than 250 productions. Past credits include Managing Director of External Affairs at Pasadena Playhouse and Director of Marketing and Public Relations for San Diego's Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theatre. He's served as Head of the Theatre Management MFA/MBA program at Cal State Long Beach and holds a BA from Penn State and an MBA from San Diego Sate University. He was a pleasure to speak with, so I'll cut to the chase and let you read on for the juicy details. :)

What advice do you give to graduating students?

"The best piece of advice that I ever got was to find a way to work at a regional theater or a theater in New York. And you can do that by looking for an entry-level position in any area. You're going to learn so much about the theater, and you're going to open up your world of interests.

I would get on some {websites} the last semester before you graduate and find out what opportunities might be available for you; and have an open mind about what those opportunities are."

Ken recommends: Theatre Communications Group // Alliance of Resident Theatres (ART New York) //

If you could go back in time and speak to your college self, what would you say?"

"What I would have said is: Try to immerse yourself in the broader world of theater beyond your interests right now. If you're an actor, maybe you want to consider directing. If you're working at the box office, maybe you want to consider learning about design. It also will uncover for you areas of the theater you may not have known existed at all."

What was your biggest mistake in your career? Well. Gee. I'll give you one although it's sort of a mistake but also a really good lesson. After sixteen years in theater management, I decided I wanted to take a break from it and do something else. I moved to LA to do marketing for movie studios at an advertising agency. I spent two years doing that, and I had a great desire to get back in the theater at that point because I just really missed the thing that I devoted my life to. In one sense it was a mistake, but in the other sense it was a great reminder to myself of what I really wanted to do." Where did you get your first job in the theater, and what was your big break? When I got out of undergrad at Penn State {as a Performance Major,} I ended up as a publicity assistant at Circle Repertory in New York. It was great because at that time, in 1984, Lanford Wilson was still the playwright in residence, and Marshall Mason was still the artistic director. I'll never forget when I went into Lanford's office one time, and I asked him to sign a copy of Fifth of July, and he wrote a little note, and I drove to Penn State and gave it to my friend who was playing the lead in Fifth of July at Penn State. And he was like, 'Oh my god! I can't believe you got Lanford Wilson to sign a script for me!' It was really a great thing. You know, I think that the one that really put me on a path to set the stage for the rest of my career was when I had an opportunity to work at the Old Globe in San Diego. This job opened up at the Old Globe in San Diego with a guy named Joe Kobryner. He was the marketing director. And when the job opened up to be the associate, I jumped at the job. And I think that was the biggest break I ever got. Joe was a brilliant mind in the theater and continues to be my mentor to this day. And that was twenty-one years ago."

What three habits contributed to your success? #1 Listening to people. I found that early in my career, far too often I was willing to give my opinion rather than listen to what other people had to say. I think listening is really key. Really important. I don't think any of us really do enough of it.

#2 Choosing to have a strong work ethic. And I use the word choosing on purpose because not all of us are workaholics. You have to make a conscious decision to put in extra time and to take on extra projects and to take initiative in your work and to ask for more responsibility. If you do that, you really create for yourself opportunities to grow.

#3 Flexibility. The ability to do something that you may just not want to do, to learn to work with someone you may not particularly have a fondness for or get along with really well and to make it work with them. You've really got to have that flexible business spirit. If you don't, you're going to close down opportunities you would not have had otherwise."

How did you get your first job? When I finished at Penn State, my undergrad advisor suggested that I reach out to ART New York, and that's what I did. Theatre Communications Group is probably the most important organization to get to know as an undergrad. You need to be writing to them, reading their website every week, getting {Executive Director} Teresa Eyring's Archive, and just being on that website all the time because that's where you're going to get the resources you need to exceed."

What are you working on now?

"There's an awful lot of projects cooking right now. Running a regional theater in this country requires the ability for you to have to juggle a lot of balls, so it's hard to answer the question succinctly. Producing seven to ten plays, managing a staff, balancing a budget at the end of a fiscal year, preparing a budget the following year, meeting artists, looking to develop projects for the future with producers, all that stuff. Probably the short answer would be, running the Geffen."

Obviously, Ken has a lot of wonderful tips we could all take away from! Here are the 5 you mustn't forget.

1. Take the Job: Don't be a snob, take the job! Any job.

2. Become Familiar With Theatre Communications Group: What are you waiting for? Start googling…now!

3. Be Open Minded and Expand Your Horizons.

4. Make Mistakes.

5. Listen: Shut your mouth and listen to someone else speak for a change. They might be obnoxious, but they might also be a creative genius. And even if they're not one, you'll probably need a favor from them in the long run, so be nice :).


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