In recognition of Executive Director Roche Schulfer’s 40th anniversary at Goodman Theatre in 2014, the Board of Trustees established an Apprenticeship Program to nurture the next generation of arts leaders. A one-of-a-kind salaried, year-long, holistic immersion into the workings of Chicago’s largest not-for-profit producing theater, this program provides a hands-on experience in theater management and promotes diversity in the arts. The Apprenticeship program began with a single position—the Producing Apprenticeship, working with Schulfer—and expanded over the past three years into other areas of the theater, thanks to a generous grant from The Joyce Foundation. Marissa Ford, the Goodman’s first Apprentice who was subsequently hired as the theater’s Special Projects Associate, recounts her experience and the value of the program below.
Michael Mellini: What initially interested you in the Apprenticeship program?
Marissa Ford: I knew that I wanted to run my own theater eventually, so after college I started working with a variety of Chicago arts organizations, including Broadway in Chicago, Collaboraction and American Theater Company. I was going from department to department and got some hands-on experience, but was still looking for the next opportunity. When I saw an online post for the Goodman Apprenticeship, the description took me back to a theater administration class I took in college, which taught how all your work has to relate back to your mission statement, which the Goodman certainly emphasizes. I got really excited because it sounded like the program would actually allow you to be a part of the staff and make things happen.
MM: What kinds of opportunities presented themselves once you arrived at the Goodman?
MF: I jumped in immediately; my first day was an opening night, so not only did I meet all the staff, I met the entire Board of Directors! I began attending meetings for all different aspects within the theater: investment and finance meetings; contracting meetings for licensing plays and hiring actors; meetings with the education, marketing and development departments; followed by the weekly meeting between all department heads. I worked closely with [Executive Director] Roche Schulfer, [Managing Director] Peter Calibraro and [General Manager] John Collins on budgeting, management and season planning. One of my first individual projects was collaborating with the Chicago Community Trust on the 2015 Accessibility Summit—a Goodman-hosted event for representatives from a variety of organizations working to improve services for differently-abled audience members in order for all to experience the power of the arts. Following that event, we established our Touch Tour program for audiences who are blind or have low vision, as well as expanded open captioning for patrons who are hard of hearing. Shortly afterward, we started planning The August Wilson Celebration in conjunction with Two Trains Running, which I also had the opportunity to company manage. This five-week tribute to the late Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright featured staged readings of the nine other plays in Wilson’s “American Century Cycle,” as well as symposiums and other cultural events.
MM: You had a unique opportunity to work side-by-side with Roche Schulfer, who has served as the theater’s Executive Director for 37 years. What was that experience like, and what did you learn from him?
MF: The Goodman is wonderful in terms of its sense of community. Roche is on the boards of many organizations, such as the Arts Alliance of Illinois, and whichever board meetings he attended, he always invited me along. So not only did I have the inside scoop at the Goodman, I was also able to get a sense of what the broader arts community was thinking and moving towards. The Goodman leadership is very involved and hands-on in all aspects of the theater, which at first could be a bit intimidating, but the amount of access you have to them and being able to watch them in action only improves your own work.
MM: You’re now a fulltime Goodman staff member. How did the Apprenticeship prepare you for your current role and what you envision for your career going forward?
MF: Interacting with so many different projects and departments allowed me to see where my strengths lie and what areas need improvement, which is always important in a career. I could always approach each department and say, “I want more experience in this area. How can I help your team and learn more?” That was helpful, because in my current position I coordinate projects with different departments, as well as community organizations we partner with on festivals and events. Looking at my career path and what I want to focus on certainly lines up with the Goodman’s core values of quality, diversity and community. The fact that the program provided a salary was incredibly helpful as well. To grow professionally, it’s critical to focus on one job, and not have your attention divided by other jobs you may need at the same time. This program offers so much hands-on experience, it was almost like getting another college degree.