This week we're interviewing Melissa Kalt about her role as Concierge for Friends of The New Victory Theater:
Melissa, how long have you worked for The New 42nd Street and The New Victory Theater, and what is your current role?
I’ve worked for The New 42nd Street for nearly nine years now but when I walked through the doors, I had no idea I would stay so long or that the kids, programs, ushers, apprentices (and all the creativity that goes on behind the scenes here) would get so under my skin! I’m currently Manager of Individual Giving and one of my main responsibilities is the coordination of the Friends Program. As a member of the Development Department, I get to work with everyone at The New 42nd Street, whether it’s coordinating with the New Victory front of house team to make sure that Friends’ events go smoothly, or contacting the Programming Department to answer a Friend’s question about whether their 6-year-old who loves hip-hop would like a particular show.
What exactly is a Friend with a capital F?
Though the New Vic prides itself on the special care we take to make everyone feel personally welcome, I don’t think there’s anything else like being a Friend of The New Victory Theater. The Friends Program begins at the $75 donation mark and offers a variety of benefits to add to the experience of seeing a New Victory show. One special perk for Friends at every level is invitations to Working Rehearsals. Personally, these are one of my favorite opportunities because donors really get a sense that they are valued “insiders.” No one is in the theater but the artists and an intimate group of Friends, staff and the technical team. There’s a magic to those nights and the New Vic is a particularly special place when the staff and Friends of the theater are sharing the very first performance of a new production in our space.
Another big benefit of the Friends Program is having a personal contact who takes extra care to be sure your questions are answered, tickets are purchased when and where you want them, and exchanges are handled whenever you need to make a change. I’m the person Friends can call or email directly for anything at all.
Friends Evenings and Friends & Family Fun Day are special because Friends are given the chance to party with the cast. Friends’ nights are an exciting outing for kids and families, and for Friends & Family Fun day, there are terrific crafts and games, along with a New Vic Teaching Artist leading activities. Ultimately, our Friends are a community. The kids get to know one another and look forward to sharing those special experiences. There’s a sense that they’re part of an ongoing party, created just for them.
What is one of your fondest New Vic memories (so far)?
There are too many to count! As the Manager of the Friends Program, I often get to really know our donors, their families and even extended families. With one family that supported the theater for many, many years, I had the chance to watch their daughter grow up. I got to learn about her interests, her vacations, pets and also see how she developed her own cultural tastes by being exposed to such a wide variety of presentations at The New Victory. When the girl was very little, she’d shyly ask actors to sign her New Vic Bill, usually with her mom pushing her a bit. But only a few years later, she was walking up by herself to ask surprisingly insightful questions of the performers. I observed the artists, impressed, pay attention and engage in conversation with her. I still receive holiday cards from that family. It’s very personal.
There’s also a couple with such enthusiasm for our work that everyone on staff seems to know their names. I’ve come to learn that there are a lot of people who might not have kids—or whose kids have gone off to college and beyond—who simply love the New Vic because it’s just great performing arts in a gorgeous, historic theater. To this day, that couple is the first to contact me on the very first day they can order tickets—but they actually don’t even need to call because I already know their favorite seats and the nights they will want to come!
What productions are you most looking forward to next season and why?
I always make sure to bring my own friends (with and without kids) to a number of shows each season, but I'm most interested in The Firework Maker’s Daughter. There’s a live orchestra and the music sounds fantastic, but I also love mixing art forms and this is an opera with puppetry based on a wonderful book. All in all, it’s going to be a rich and unique experience! I’m also excited about The Mark of Zorro. I was here a few years ago when Visible Fictions brought Jason and the Argonauts to the New Vic. It was clever, colorful, and made me laugh. You can’t go wrong with another great adventure story with a fantastic hero like Zorro!
How does the Friends program benefit the theater?
Friends are extraordinary partners at whatever level they participate. Because our ticket prices are so reasonable, we must raise 72% of the cost of running the theater. The New Victory is a nonprofit organization with extensive programming for kids, teenagers, teachers and adults—and it is the financial support of our Friends that allows us to do all that we do. Friends of The New Victory are able to see their impact in a variety of ways: from the programming on our stage, to $2 tickets and free workshops for schools, to our professional training programs for Ushers and Apprentices.
The enthusiasm, loyalty and participation of our Friends is just as important as their gift. Friends who continue to give, even after their kids have grown up, provide a solid base of support that is important for any nonprofit to survive. We see the donations of our Friends as an acknowledgment of the importance of the work of The New Victory.
In what way have you seen being a Friend of The New Victory have an impact on a family?
I’ve seen the impact in countless ways. Because of the combination of benefits and personal communication, Friends become an integral part of the New Victory family.
With the kids, I see this theater become a second home for them as they grow up. They enter a Working Rehearsal or Patron Event and they see staff members, including me, who they know. They feel special because they are here when the public is not and they can attend wonderful parties where they actually get to meet cast members.
Parents have a special opportunity to have time at the theater that’s also engaging and enjoyable for them. New Vic shows bring families together because they spark conversation between parents and kids. Being a Friend of the New Vic deepens a family’s experience of coming to the theater and allows them to create rich memories while supporting the arts.