Celebrating Women: A Q&A With Broadway/San Diego's Vanessa Davis
The new general manager of Broadway/San Diego on the power of speaking out and what theater can do for young people
Photo by Flavio Scorsato
Erin Meanley Glenny: You’ve been at Broadway/San Diego 20 years. How do you keep it interesting?
Vanessa Davis: I have to work in a constantly moving environment. I am an Army brat. I had the benefit of living in one place—Heidelberg, Germany—from 8 to 18, but my friends changed all the time. My apartments changed, the look out the front door was constantly changing. So I’ve lived my life like that. I’ve been at Broadway/San Diego for 20 years, but not doing the same thing. I have touched on just about every department just to get something different. I truly love what I do and who I do it with.
EMG: What was it like growing up in Germany?
VD: My parents were brave. I can’t imagine moving to another country with two young kids and deciding at that age, with very little, to say that you’re going to try new things, get in a car on a Saturday morning and drive somewhere to a little festival. We’d wind up in some tiny town celebrating their cherry or their trout, and next thing you know we’re swinging and celebrating and dancing with the Germans.
EMG: Did you go to the theater there?
VD: My mom felt that anyone who sits idle can get into trouble. So we had to volunteer, whether it was at the Red Cross or with a community theater. My mom was a huge opera fan and would try to find something that spoke to us. A Hansel and Gretel opera was still really heavy, but it was at least family friendly. It wasn’t what was on the stage, it was the act of going.
EMG: What does theater do for young people?
VD: I believe that every time the lights go down and the story onstage begins to unfold, it captures the imagination of everyone in the audience. But what excites me is that there may be a young person making the decision That’s what I want to do. I would encourage any young person thinking about a career in this industry to go for it. There’s a place for you in the arts, and we need you.
EMG: Hamilton was an interesting experience. Was that difficult to put on?
VD: It wasn’t. People either had no idea what they were about to see, or had every word already memorized. The people who knew it were ready before the curtain came up. When the lights dim and people start to cheer before anything has happened, it’s like, This is going to be good. I’m an audience watcher. It’s probably the first show where ushers had to tell people, “Shhh, stop singing all the words.” I loved that there were so many young people who came.
EMG: What do you do to reach people who can’t regularly attend, or have never enjoyed the theater?
VD: One thing we do is work with local organizations to place a touring acting instructor or dance captain into a school and teach students audition development, choreography, makeup application, or spoken word—whatever it is that they do for the show, we’ll place them in a venue.
EMG: What else does Broadway/San Diego do in the community?
VD: We are most proud of the Broadway San Diego Awards because it’s our opportunity to really get into the community and focus on youth in San Diego and support the students who want to be a part of the arts. We preview high school productions from all over the county and select 20 student nominees to work with for a weeklong intensive that leads up to the competition. That night, one male and one female are selected to represent San Diego in New York at the Jimmy Awards [the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, June 25] and will compete on a Broadway stage after being coached by top industry directors, actors, dancers, and singers. The moment we know who our two winners are is amazing, because we know that’s what’s next for them. The experience they will embark on is incredible.
EMG: It sounds like Broadway/San Diego is big on coaching and educating. Have you had positive experiences with that in your own career?
VD: I’ve always been blessed to have women who will tell me the truth. The ones that stand out to me now are the ones that clap the loudest and mean it, and they are always the first to tell me when I’m off course. That drives me. I grew up with a very strong, opinionated, and determined mother. If I see somebody struggling in a role, I will speak out. I try to live that every day—be nice, be kind, be supportive, be brave, and say it.