Portrait of an Arts Admin Office – Liza Paul
Liza Paul is the Associate Producer for Soulpepper Theatre Company, a post she has held for 6 and a half years. She also single-handedly supplies most of the laughter heard throughout the office.
When you hear “Associate Producer,” what does it tell you? What do you imagine? Someone who associate produces, probably, but that’s hardly enlightening. My job, at least on paper and most significantly, is to track, write, print and send all of the contracts for all of the artists whose work graces our stages.
Our saintly Producer (who I suspect is the first ever 100% successful human cloning experiment – that there are two of her is the only rational explanation for how she gets through her tremendous workload) works for months with our mad scientist Artistic Director to cobble together the house of cards that is our season. Once it’s set, she funnels the details to me so that I can write the contracts. For everyone. This includes directors, designers, actors, stage managers, choreographers, fight directors, and the occasional magician.
Once the contracts are fully executed, I work with our most diligent, most persistent, most accommodating Payroll Coordinator to make sure that the artists have a point of contact when they are trying to navigate the many branches of our administration.
I protect the artists’ interests and tell them who to talk to when I can’t answer their questions myself. I communicate the activities of the artistic company to the administration and vice-versa. I schedule the academy artists and answer all their very particular questions with the very general but always apt, “I don’t know. I don’t know when I’ll know. But as soon as I do, I will tell you.” Then I try to make that come true. I try to solve the unsolvable problem of noise bleed in rehearsal halls that weren’t designed to be soundproof. I try to find space in a building that, thanks to the success of its founders and despite its considerable size, is packed to the gills and doesn’t have much space to offer.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know if I can put my job into words that will explain all that I do. I don’t know if any one of us up here could. Imagine: every morning, from Monday to Friday, you walk into a building that most of the city only sees at night or for the occasional matinee. You bypass the box office, ignore the theatre doors, and go upstairs and along a really unflatteringly lit and not very welcoming hallway to enter the office – the nucleus (which, thank God, is a beautiful shade of red that makes us all look good).
I think that best describes our position in this whole thing: we are the nucleus. It’s true that without the plays or the artists or the audiences none of us would be employed, but, at least as it relates to the artists, the reverse is also true. We make everything go. We do the behind-the-scenes work to support the artists so that they can continue to do what it is that they love and do it well.
We are all, artists, technicians and administrators alike, part of something excellent. We should all be proud of our part in this mad scheme because it’s amazing how much we accomplish and how consistently well we do it. We maintain that excellence by making sure that everything is taken care of and taken care of well. There are things we worry about that don’t make sense anywhere but in our world. But we all know why these things matter. We all depend on each other to make everything go. We are a machine, a little engine that could – and it is little.
We produce more and more plays every year, which you might think would mean that our little engine grows in proportion to the increase in activity, but the little engine stays roughly the same size and just works harder. We are crazy. We have an open concept office which is nice in theory but offers none of the privacy that people sometimes need to conduct their business. Consequently, there is lots of speaking in the hushed tones our beloved Director of Finance Tracy has dubbed “finance voice.”
When we are tired of emailing and calling each other or we just want to know who’s around, we yell over the pseudo walls to see who’s out there. Sometimes we know exactly who’s there so we yell louder. We laugh. I am not sure who laughs the loudest, but I think it might be our Executive Director Leslie. Or me. There is no way I could tell you who laughs the most, although the tie for easiest laugh would have to be between Annie, our Development Officer and Gianna, our Administrative Assistant.
We are lots of fun. For all the madness that is the administration, there is also a lot of love. We all put love into what we do, and it shows – people see it. At the Doras this year, almost every artist who accepted an award that they earned as part of our season commented on what a pleasure it was to come upstairs. I didn’t hear too many other artists say that about any other companies. That’s not a dig – it’s just an observation, one that I think is worth noting. Upstairs is us, all of us who are making the little engine go. That is something to be proud of. I don’t know if that really explains the “what” of what it is we do, but maybe it will give you a sense of how much love goes in to the why.