The Lion King to the Tony Awards: Brittany Halberstadt on Her Arts Career Pathway
Brittany Halberstadt (Class of 2019) shares her journey from becoming a production assistant for The Lion King as a first-year student to a Broadway League intern and a Tony Awards seat filler this past summer.
Over the last three years, I have pursued my passion for art and theater while learning more about the careers that are available in both industries. Duke may not offer an arts administration major, but I have cultivated my own understanding of the field by combining classes in Art History and Innovation & Entrepreneurship with part time jobs at the Nasher Museum of Art and the National Tour of Disney’s The Lion King and internships at the Charlotte Ballet (Charlotte, NC) and the Broadway League (New York, NY).
Read on to learn how I became a production assistant for The Lion King as a first-year student and a Broadway League intern and a Tony Awards seat filler this past summer.
The Lion King Comes to Durham
I began working for the national tour of Disney’s The Lion King in early 2016 during my first year at Duke. The company was performing at DPAC for five weeks in February and March, and I was hired as their local production assistant. In this role, I assisted with daily company management tasks including travel arrangements, setting up the local company management office, and answering questions about Durham and the surrounding area to touring members.
I was connected to the opportunity through the Duke Career Center and DEMAN (Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network). The company manager was Duke alumna Margaret Skoglund, and she reached out to the Career Center and DEMAN to find a qualified candidate for the position.
I spent hours backstage each day, and I enjoyed seeing the professionalism and enthusiasm of the cast and crew. Each company member was willing to share their experiences on the road, and they embraced me as a new company member—even during my short tenure.
Working for a Tour (Without Living on the Road)
Eight months after working with The Lion King, I received a phone call from the company manager, whom I had kept in touch with over the preceding months. She had a new remote production assistant position that would allow one person to act as a PA for every city on the tour, instead of onboarding someone new in each city. I was offered the position in November 2016, and I quickly began gathering information about every city on the tour, and coordinating details like hotels, rental cars, parking arrangements and more as needed. I have worked remotely for almost two years, and I have enjoyed seeing the leadership styles of three different company managers during that time.
I am now familiar with commercial theater vocabulary and company management, but working remotely lacks the camaraderie and sense of a shared goal that I enjoyed so much at DPAC. It was incredibly rewarding to work in the backstage office making sure that each company member was taken care of and ready to perform. It was also exciting to witness the controlled chaos of a touring show with over 100 company members!
What is the Broadway League, Anyway?
This summer, before returning to Duke for my senior year, I interned in the membership and professional development department at the Broadway League in New York City. The League is the national trade organization for Broadway that coordinates many of the agreements between theatrical unions and theaters, co-hosts the Tony Awards with the American Theater Wing, manages a variety of educational programs, and promotes Broadway through advertising, media, and national PR campaigns. General managers, producers, presenters, and theater owners and operators are eligible for League membership.
I began each day at the League by browsing The Broadway Briefing, a daily e-newsletter with headlines from commercial theater around the country. Staying up-to-date on industry news was important, as many office conversations revolved around this topic. There was a sense that we were all working towards the same goal: the success of the Broadway industry. My colleagues seemed truly thrilled to have theater as a central part of their life, and they were dedicated to building and sustaining theatrical audiences across the country.
Diving Into My Summer Internship
Staff in the membership and professional development department at the Broadway League were incredibly welcoming, and I quickly took ownership of a summer-long project. The project was an extension of the Broadway League/ATPAM (Associate of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers) Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. The League/ATPAM Initiative fosters the next generation of young theater professionals by giving diverse applicants the opportunity to intern with company managers at touring Broadway theaters across the country.
To assist League/ATPAM Diversity and Inclusion Initiative alumni in networking and pursuing careers in the theater industry, I created a Facebook group and began to share relevant resources, articles, and events. I also brainstormed a series of bi-monthly conference calls for the group. It was important to me to support the League/ATPAM alumni in pursuing careers in theater—my own entry into the theater world via The Lion King felt like a very similar experience. I personally know the value that even a short internship experience can have on young professionals.
Broadway’s Biggest Night
The American Theater Wing’s Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Broadway Theater—also known as the Tony Awards—are co-hosted by the American Theater Wing and the Broadway League each June.
This summer the Tony Awards were June 10, just a week and a half after I arrived in NYC. Each year, management organizes a group of “seat fillers.” Seat fillers sit in orchestra seats during the telecast while celebrities are out of their seats, so that the auditorium always looks full to the cameras.
During my first day in the office, I was interviewed to be a seat filler for the event. Before the end of the day, I was told that I would attend the telecast! On the day of the Tony’s, I arrived at Radio City Music Hall four hours before the start of the show. While waiting to be seated in empty seats, I watched celebrities stream in for the Creative Arts Awards (one hour before broadcast) and then for the start of the broadcast. The atmosphere was electric!
Two minutes before the official start, the seat fillers were told that seventeen people were needed to fill the seats in the orchestra pit. With a minute to go, I leapt out of my seat, over a small part of the stage, and into the pit. I sat down with less than 30 seconds to spare, and looked up at the stage as the lights dimmed for the start of the show.
Advice From the Experts
I’ve received the same piece of advice many times over the last year: See as many live performances as possible so that you can start to develop your own sense of taste. While in New York, I took this advice to heart and began seeing shows on, off, and off-off-off Broadway. I saw over twenty-five different live events from Shakespeare in the Park and local community theater to Good Morning America, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and an intimate performance by the New York Neo Futurists (an experimental theater troupe that present 30 short scenes in 60 minutes).
I also took advantage of numerous opportunities to meet with members of the commercial theater industry beyond my internship. I had breakfast with the executive director of ASU Gammage to discuss the job of a touring Broadway presenter on a university campus, lunch with the company manager of the Dear Evan Hansen tour (and my former boss on The Lion King), and coffee with the company manager of Gettin’ The Band Back Together. I shadowed the company manager of The Lion King on Broadway and took a backstage tour of Once On This Island (and put my toes in the sand!). Through these experiences, I learned more about potential careers in the commercial theater industry.
Although I left New York City, I don’t want to lose the immersion in the theater industry that I experienced this summer. In order to stay involved, I will continue to see one live performance a week at venues in Durham and the surrounding area. I will also keep in touch with my contacts in the theater industry, and I plan to have lunch or coffee with touring company managers as productions travel to DPAC.
I continue to work remotely for the national tour of The Lion King, and I also work remotely for the company manager of Gettin’ The Band Back Together (another former boss on The Lion King).
Durham Performing Arts Center
PlayMaker’s Repertory Company
Raleigh Little Theatre
North Carolina Theatre
Advice for a Fellow Theater Lover
If you’re interested in becoming involved in theater, but you don’t know how to begin, start by seeing as many shows as possible! Find opportunities to meet individuals whom you admire in the field. Many arts leaders are happy to meet with students and discuss their careers. This can also lead to other opportunities and offers!
Every opportunity, no matter how small, may lead to others. If you’d like to build your own knowledge of the industry, you can research contracts and union agreements and become more familiar with theater vocabulary. This knowledge will come in handy during job or internship interviews and when meeting with industry professionals.
Brittany Halberstadt is a senior from Charlotte, NC, majoring in Art History with a Concentration in Museum Theory and Practice. Aside from her work in theater, she is the Education Assistant for the Reflections Program and a Gallery Guide at the Nasher Museum of Art.