Backstage with operations manager Joanna Obuzor | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Backstage with operations manager Joanna Obuzor

“There is an art to the administration of the arts.”

Backstage with operations manager Joanna Obuzor
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Joanna Obuzor
Name: Joanna Obuzor, North Side
Work: Operations Manager, Benedum Center
Recent projects: Hamilton, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s annual gala, DOUBLE DARE LIVE!
Upcoming: Come From Away, Mariah Carey, Jerry Seinfeld

What does an operations manager do?
We have 19 different rentable spaces. I manage everything that goes on in all of them, including stage, auditorium, lobby spaces, rehearsal rooms, plus the loading dock.

So what does this mean on a daily basis when you walk into work?
It changes every day, and that’s one of the things I love about it. I love calendars and schedules and figuring all of those pieces out. But many times, you’ll plan your day and say, “OK, I’m going to do this, this, this, and this,” and then you come in and say, “Oh. There’s a sinkhole. There’s a sinkhole in the alley,” and that changes your plans a little. When a sinkhole comes up, you have to fix the sinkhole.

An actual sinkhole?
That’s the grand scale of derailments, but lots of things come up. I love that every day is a new adventure. Most often it’s planning and documents, interaction with the companies using the spaces.

Like who?
Resident companies, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Pittsburgh Opera, and Pittsburgh CLO; they’re here most frequently. Broadway tours, usually for one week, also one-night-only events. You’re dealing with everything that they need: rehearsal space, to special events, to bomb-sniffing dogs.

Are bomb-sniffing dogs frequently called for?
They’re not common but something we’re seeing more of. We had one for Hamilton. The level of security with a show is very much on the rise.

What brought you here?
Way back I was a dancer, had a really bad injury, and found my way into technical theater. I was a stage manager, loved that part of things more than performing, worked as a production manager then moved on to this. I’ve been in this position coming up on two years.

You enjoy the organizational aspect?
God, yes. I spend an hour in Excel figuring out how to make things fit better and think, “They’re paying me for this! How delightful!” There’s an elegance of a good spreadsheet that tickles me. That element of coming up with an idea, “It would be great if — insert blank” and you’re like, “Oh! I bet I could get it to do that!” Sometimes it takes some finagling to line the pieces up, but when you figure it out.

You are enthusiastic about paperwork, which people are not typically enthusiastic about.
The other day I made a report that detailed seven years of revenues, all on one beautiful page. I had friends waiting for me and I was like a kid playing a video game, “Five more minutes, just give me five more minutes!” And I was literally making a spreadsheet.

You find creativity in it?
There is an art to the administration of the arts. I think that about any profession, an accountant, a mechanic. There is a grace to work done well, something ephemeral about anything done with attention and care.

What have you loved besides spreadsheets?
Hamilton — there was a tingle in the air with people that were just ready, that wanted to be here so badly, and it was truly special. We participated in EduHam — schools sign up and teach about the show, art, creativity. At the end of the program, students come to the theater for a special matinee. They’ve all written songs, spoken word, dialogue, and some are chosen to perform. It was magical seeing 3,000 kids watching a show where people look like them, talk like them, on a stage where some of them had performed earlier in the day.