Leadership / 10.05.23
Barrett Newman’s Career Spans the Ticket Office to the OlympTIX and More
Everyone can recall where they were when certain momentous events occurred. However, few are likely to remember the exact row and seat number they were in at a venue three decades ago. Barrett Newman is an exception.
“I was sitting in row H, seat 121,” he says without hesitation.
The show was “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and the venue was the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C.
It was not the performance that left such a lasting impression, but the theater where he had just been offered his first full-time job in ticketing management.
“I looked around, looked at the chandelier and said, ‘I have to be here,’” Barrett says.
Barrett, bottom left, with Warner Theatre box office staff circa 1994. INTIX members will recognize another familiar face, Bernie Berry (right), in this photo.
The Warner is a beautiful classic theater that was built in the 1920s. Barrett had been working there part-time before it closed for three years for renovations. When it reopened, he returned as a part-timer, working shifts around another job. The first year was so busy, with 240 performances, that they added a full-time ticket office manager position and offered it to Barrett.
“I had to do some soul searching,” he says. “I was already in another industry … I was in a job in a law firm with a salary ready to learn to be a law firm administrator, and I would be taking a pay cut … That is when I had the vision in my head that I had to make the change in my life and go for it.”
Barrett stayed for 14 years, eventually becoming the venue’s General Manager. “[Being box office manager] was the longest job in my full-time career,” he says.
During that time, Barrett learned to appreciate what it takes to be a leader in the ticketing industry.
“Understanding more than just the org chart and really understanding and having some passion for the field is important,” he says. “A leader who just knows how to produce widgets is not what I would find to be a good leader. They might have the mechanics for it, but there's got to be some heart and some passion involved with it.”
When he did leave in 2007, he joined Jam Exhibitions. His first project was managing the “Bodies…The Exhibition” museum show, featuring real human bodies that are respectfully presented after being meticulously dissected and preserved through an innovative polymer process. Later, he worked with Jam Theatricals, which presented Broadway engagements across North America before it became Nederlander National Markets.
Barrett has also worked for the Washington Ballet and various concert festivals, where he has been offering ticketing/admissions services for over a decade. In 2018, he took on his current position as Engagements Manager with Crossroads Live North America.
“I work with good, fun people who are in it for the right reasons. They share the passion of theatre and Broadway,” he says proudly. “Most of the people here are all about putting on the show and that filters down from top to bottom … I work with Broadway shows, so it is nice to have an office filled with people who are here because they like doing Broadway and want to do it up well.”
And what inspires Barrett?
“Knowing that we in the industry are providing art and that we are serving a different kind of need, a different kind of good,” he says. “It is very much cliché … We are not curing cancer, but we are providing something that is really needed. The arts are not inconsequential. They are crucial to the nation as a community and crucial to community as a nation.”
Barrett continues, “The end result is entertainment. Something fun. It could be passive entertainment. Someone who is coming along because a boyfriend or girlfriend dragged them there. Or it could be something that someone is passionate about, and it could be changing people's lives.”
Barrett with son Keith, an Indiana University, Bloomington, graduate and now a Ballet Arkansas company dancer.
Changing people’s lives is indeed a part of why so many INTIX members love being in the business of entertainment. “I remember one of my early lessons,” Barrett says. “At the Warner, we had ‘The Nutcracker’ every year and had some 11 a.m. school shows for the kids being bussed in. We had a discussion about putting on the marquee lights, which, of course, don't look good during the day or don't have the same effect during the day. I said, ‘No, let's not put on the lights.’ My boss at the time countered, ‘Put on those lights because we are putting on a show. These kids are coming, and we might change one kid's life. [Someone may] be inspired to see more art or even get involved in the industry.’ So, that's part of [what I love most about our industry] is that it could be inspiring the next generation.”
Barrett’s interest in the next generation includes convincing more young people to choose ticketing as a career.
“One of my big soapbox issues is having ticketing become a more recognized, admired and respected part of the industry,” he says. “It is so much better off than it was 20 years ago. But as a way of example, theater camps can be a dime a dozen in the summertime. The techies are usually doing the lighting and sound and maybe the costume design, but there is no thought given to the front of house or ticket office, and those can be bona fide careers. They are much needed parts of the industry. Sure, doing a budget or P&L statement at summer camp is not sexy, but learning how to do some basic ticket office things, concessions or ushering would serve these camps well.”
He says, “Nowadays, some universities have arts management and ticketing on the curriculum. They are still few and far between, but there is some legitimacy.”
Barrett’s interest in ticketing as a profession is what attracted him to INTIX. Why is he a member?
“It is to honor the uniqueness of the industry or the subindustry that it is a part of,” he says. “It is also very much a tradition. I became a member in 1994 and once you start renewing, it is inertia, something you do each year, no reason not to.”
Barrett continues, “My friends used to say, ‘You mean there is an international association and a conference every year that is just ticketing people?’ I have to counter and say, ‘Yes, we are a formidable group.’ And, of course, now in the news with ticketing laws and stuff, our industry is not in the shadows as it used to be. It gives us the chance to get questions answered, to be able to answer questions and discuss issues that we all mutually deal with. It is a place to have lots of fun, whether it is just sharing patron horror stories or ticketing nightmares over some Boca disaster. We talk the same language, and that is hard to find elsewhere.”
And then, there are the memories…
“I have two [that stand out],” he says. “For a few years, I did the first-timers orientation at the conference, briefing them on how to handle the week and what to expect. It was a mix of real practical stuff of who, what, where, why and how, but also how to be passionate about it, the suggestion of writing a memo to the boss afterwards so you can keep [coming to the INTIX conference] in the budget and whatnot. After one of the sessions, one of the long-time INTIX members and past chairman — so a seasoned INTIX person — came up and said that he sits in these things every year … He checked off in his mind that I was hitting everything, nailing one, two, three, all the things that needed to be said. I took some pride in that, and I love doing that orientation. I also remember the moment on the tradeshow floor when the OlympTIX was fully blossoming and people were lining up to take part in the silly competition that I put together, to salute the silliness of what we do. It was a good feeling to be right there with that project.”
OlympTIX competitors at the 25th Anniversary INTIX 2004 in Philadelphia.
And joyfully, Barrett shared even more “silliness” with us. It is not related to the OlympTIX competitions of past years, when attendees would count tickets, count money, and do adding machine trials and will call alphabetizing. What is it? Well, the talent he would most like to have is the ability to do improv comedy. But not for the reason some might think.
“Not to perform it necessarily, but just to have the brain acuity, the brain power, the brain synapses to think quickly, react quickly, and have the know-how when to be quiet and let someone else start talking. I think improv comedy people have tremendous skills.”
Have you ever done improv comedy, we asked.
“Just in the office, so, no,” he said, laughing.
We have a sneaking suspicion that Barrett is pretty funny outside of the office too. Case in point — we asked where he would most like to live. He delivered his reply with such seriousness that we almost missed the joke. “The Not-In-Service apartment complex because so many buses seem to be headed that way,” he said.
One skill Barrett says he does have is the ability to play piano.
“I took lessons starting at age five with one of the only surviving musicians from John Philip Sousa's original band,” he says. “He was a day younger than dirt. He was in his 90s, he was a John Philip Sousa band member, and he was my first teacher. Scared the heck out of me, but that’s how the story starts.”
Barrett says, “I was never in a band and never reached an advanced level. I hit a threshold, but I like doing it. It is a fun thing to do just personally … It is rare that I know a song from start to finish, so it is just kind of noodling around, having fun, chord progressions, arpeggios, and just tinkering, playing a mix of the Beatles or some show tunes. That is why it is only personal, only for me, but I do derive joy from it.”
Barrett also gets joy from attending concerts and Broadway shows, and he considers each one he sees to be the best live event ever “for that day.” The list of bands he has seen is a long one. “There are six that I have seen more than three dozen times apiece: Aerosmith, Cracker, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, Widespread Panic and Zebra … [As for which is my favorite artist], with over a dozen bands that I have seen over 20 times each, it is impossible to nail down one of them. It is whatever is on stage right then and there.”
Barrett with his best childhood friend at a concert in the ‘90s.
Alas, Barrett cannot recall all the rows and seat numbers for the concerts he has attended off the top of his head. He has saved his ticket stubs. And he also created a record many years ago and maintains it to this day, so he can tell you about the shows he has seen.
“I have quite a concert log,” Barrett says. “So much so that it is in Excel … I have more details, I think, than most people around. I am still down on myself for not thinking in advance about capturing other information. It all started with just ticket stubs. I'm a ticketing guy, and I always kept my ticket stubs. Sometime in the late ‘80s, I took those ticket stubs and wrote out the basic day, date, venue and name of the artist on an index card. Sometime in the ‘90s, I started putting it into Excel. It captured basic information. Over the years, I added the ticket cost and who I went to the concert with. That was a late entry. I wish I had put seat locations, but I guess I'd be termed a nerd if I start doing all that.”
Snippets from Barrett’s concert log.
Besides, Barrett has many other unfinished projects that he needs to work on, so many that when asked about his greatest achievement to date, he said it was “recognizing that I have not gotten to the greatest achievement.”
He says, “I recently started compiling my Google Drive, all the notes and various subfolders and documents of unrealized projects. There have been dozens and dozens over the years that I never got around to completing or barely starting … Some are industry projects, some personal, some film, making a podcast and a killer app. The list goes on and on and on and on … Part of it is just coming to grips with the fact that there is a lot that's not been accomplished yet and, hopefully, ‘yet’ is the key word.”
Barrett at Woodstock in 1994.
In addition to concerts and theatre performances, Barrett used to be an avid moviegoer and hopes, one day, to do more of that again.
“I feel bad that I have let moviegoing kind of fall behind. I now envision moviegoing picking up when I am retired. I see myself being the retired old guy going to the neighborhood theater three times a week for a double feature and talking the ear off of the usher who doesn't want to hear me.”
While he did not let on where he might like to retire to one day, Barrett did admit that he has a special place in his heart for Chicago.
Barrett at INTIX 2014 in Chicago.
“I love going to Chicago,” he says. “It was the site of many good memories, including at least three INTIX conferences [that were] all very fun and educational. I also go for the Lollapalooza festival each year, which is in residence at Grant Park. Every time I go, I feel like I've scratched 1% of what the city has to offer. It is a huge city. There is so much there. Some of it is my fault for going back to some of the same haunts that I do year after year, but I always try to do something different and try to expand. So, Chicago is a fun place to visit. I don't think I would want to live there, but I love going.”
Barrett talks to ticketing peers at INTIX 2014 in Chicago.
After three decades in ticketing, one wonders what advice Barrett might give himself if he could go back in time and do it all over again. It would be, “To chill more … get over confidence issues,” he says.
And with that, one can see Barrett chilling in a swimming pool, dancing at a dance club, rocking out to a beloved band or playing piano by himself, all of which he says give him the greatest joys in life. He may also spend time with his most treasured possession — a well-worn teddy bear named Buster, his companion since birth.
“He celebrates his birthday five weeks before mine,” Barrett says. “He was just a random gift from somebody to my mom before I was born and became mine from day one … He is a little torn up. He has seen better days, for sure, but he is still around.”
From a lifelong treasure to a decades-long ticketing career, many things in Barrett Newman’s journey have brought joy beyond measure.
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Tags: Leadership , GTKY