Leadership / 10.13.21
Cate Foltin Has Found Her Community at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts
This story is brought to you by the INTIX Women in Entertainment Technology Program.
Cate Foltin, Business Manager for the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Michigan, says she “grew up” on the producing side of live theatre. This is the first job she has ever had on the presenting side.
“But I still get the same rush,” she says. “My absolute favorite thing to do is to go in when a show is just going up. And you know there is some guy who has been dragged there by his wife. It’s a Friday night, and he doesn’t want to be there. But he’s there. I can spot them. They’re not engaged with the venue. They’re not flipping through the program. They have their cellphone out. But then the lights go down, the curtain goes up and the music starts. And suddenly that person is sitting up. And eventually he’s leaning forward. That’s the ‘gotcha’ moment! We gotcha engaged! I live for those moments. They make everything else worthwhile.”
Those moments have been fewer and farther between in the pandemic era. But Foltin has endured, and she’s gained a whole new appreciation for her work and for the role the arts plays in all our lives. With the Macomb Center being part the campus of Macomb Community College, she has also rediscovered how important her venue is to young people.
“Community good will is very important to us, especially being part of a college,” she says. “We got the news that we were shutting down from the college at 4 p.m. on March 10, 2020 — not that that date is burned into my memory at all! We had two sold-out performances for the next morning that we had to inform 2,400 kids, teachers and others not to come to. All the box office staff came in to make calls to individuals and to various school groups not to come. Of course, at that time, we were told we were only going to be closed for two weeks! Those two weeks spread to a month, and then to three months and so forth. We zigged, we zagged and we had to determine, ‘What shows are we rescheduling? What shows are we not?’ Finally, we knew we weren’t going to have any of these shows, and we had to refund all our events. We couldn’t hold on to all of these people’s money.”
As it has been for so many INTIX members, the last 18 months have felt like a long haul. But there have lately been signs of optimism. “We just opened our season last Friday [this interview was conducted in early October], and we had a great audience come out for a tribute group,” Foltin says. “It went smoothly overall. But that same show in a non-COVID-19 year would have been a sellout. At least through the holidays, I think we’re going to see a slower start to our season. We’ve been seeing a shift in people’s ticket-buying patterns. People are waiting closer to the event to purchase their tickets. Walkups are occurring more than ever. But I think by the end of our fiscal year, June 30, 2022, we’ll be fine.”
Foltin has seen numerous fiscal years at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, having been on staff there since 2008. She earned her degree in arts administration from Eastern Michigan University in the early 1980s. She was poised to attend graduate school in Washington, D.C., when an opportunity presented itself to serve as a legal analyst for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). In that post, she worked with members of Congress, the National Governors Association, National Public Radio, PBS and more.
A 12-week job turned into a six-year salaried position after her first boss was transferred to Japan. “It became a learning curve like no other,” she says with a slight chuckle. “It was an opportunity that would certainly not happen today. I remember people asked, ‘Can you handle it?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, sure! Of course, I can!’”
She was let go from CPB when a new management team took over and installed their own people. From there, she spent two years in San Francisco working with Theatre Bay Area as Executive Director before eventually hooking on with Macomb. Of her duties and responsibilities, she says, “I deal with all things financial, making sure everything is invoiced and paid correctly. I also oversee all the box office operations. My team is great. They all came back after being furloughed for a year. I didn’t lose anybody in my box office crew. And they picked up like they had only been gone since yesterday!”
As much as she enjoys working with that team, there is another aspect of her job that stokes her even more: “I love working with the patrons. I especially enjoy hearing their comments on how excited they are to see a particular show. This facility has been here since 1985. It started out hosting community groups and then was built out into a performing arts center. We’re the only major performing arts center in the county. Even though we’re only a 40-minute drive from Detroit, we can get shows and acts that people just won’t drive down to Detroit for sometimes. So, our patrons have a real connection to the organization.”
She continues, “I’ve been here long enough that I’m starting to see the generational returns. Grandmas are now starting to bring her grandchildren to see ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet. Or, when we have a couple of return performers, we see the same people coming to see them each time. But I also love those people who are willing to take a chance on us every now and then when we bring something that is a little left of center, a little right to center, something that’s not Broadway.”
Challenges, though, remain even after more than 13 years on the job. Keeping up with technology is often a top concern. “We can’t just go out and buy new equipment or software,” she says. “We have to go through a purchasing process. The other big challenge is what I see our marketing department having to deal with. It’s cutting through the noise and all the options out there. The access to everything that people now have. There’s been this big shift to people saying, ‘Well, I can just stay home and watch Hulu.’”
Foltin says it takes a particular kind of person to do the work she and others like her do. There must be a certain love that endures even when there’s such instability in the live events space. “If you don’t love it, don’t do it!” she says. “If you don’t like dealing with the public, if you don’t like dealing with chaos, if you don’t like having to zig or zag or pivot of whatever the word of the day is … it’s probably not the job for you. But if you like something that is 70% chaos and 30% routine, and if you like the fact that every day is different and every audience is different, you’re going to love it. I do!”
When asked what advice she would have for young women reading this who are just starting out in the profession, Foltin was quick to answer: “Find yourself a mentor. INTIX is great for that. Find someone who you appreciate — you appreciate their work style, their work ethic, their knowledge base — and ask them to mentor you, whether they are in the same organization or not. Computer skills are easy to learn. It’s important to find a mentor who will teach you leadership and team-building skills. Being a service leader who takes care of her team and who knows how to take care of herself — that is a hard thing to accomplish, especially as life goes on and you maybe get married, have children, pursue advance degrees or whatever your life path is.”
She concludes, “The ticketing world can be a fun career. You will learn things you never thought you would know how to do. But you also need a support system. Because when the world goes ‘wonky,’ no one else will understand better than your support group!”
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: Leadership , Women in Ticketing