Leadership / 09.07.21
Danielle Howard Varnado Feeds Her Soul Through Live Events, Lifelong Learning and a Passion for the Guest Experience
Las Vegas is an iconic destination that is literally jam-packed with excitement. Looking for glitz and glam? You got it! Want to be entertained? The options are endless! Then there are the mega-resorts, giant neon marquees and oh so many bright lights. In that latter category is INTIX member Danielle Howard Varnado, a born-and-raised Chicagoan who moved to Las Vegas in 2005 while working in the airline industry and with dreams of attending college.
“When I came to Las Vegas,” Danielle says, “I said, ‘OK, I need another form of employment that can feed my soul. I need to find a way to do the things that I love to do. And I love going to shows.’”
That is how she started her career in ticketing and discovered the INTIX community.
“I was working at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts here in Las Vegas. My biggest love is Broadway, and my second love would be concerts, opera, philharmonic and ballet,” Danielle says. “All of this is encapsulated in what The Smith Center is, and I was able to find INTIX through someone I worked with, who also is a member of INTIX.”
She continues, “Broadway has always been exciting. I had never gone to a Broadway show in New York, but I have gone to Broadway on the road and to Broadway Across America. I have gone to The Smith Center many times. I was a subscriber for years until I started going to college and [had the added expense of] tuition. Working in the ticket office had always been on my bucket list because ticketing professionals are so eclectic, so inventive and so very creative. I have found that as a guest, as a patron and as a customer, and I have also found that as an employee, as a trainer and as a lead.”
Today, Danielle works as a Casino Host at the newly opened Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas. Freshly renovated and rebranded, it is the former Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, where she worked in the ticket office for almost four years through the summer of 2019. Danielle went to work for a production company in a role she hoped would last through the renovations, but instead it disappeared with the pandemic.
“I did not get to see the last heydays of the [Hard Rock] hotel because I was already employed and engaged in other things, but I lived vicariously through the people who did because they would send pictures and tell me stories,” Danielle says.
Once you find ticketing or ticketing finds you, it is always in your blood. Danielle loves her work as a Casino Host, delivering perks and special experiences to gamblers to turn them into loyal patrons, but she still dreams of getting back into ticketing on a full-time basis. It is something Danielle continues to work toward even as she passionately gives 110% to her current role and the guests she serves.
“My client list [at the Virgin Hotel] is about 500 people, so with eight of us [in casino marketing], there are about 4,000 people that we are considering for that level of service,” she says.
The casino at Virgin Hotels, Las Vegas is already a huge success after opening in March 2021. “There is a new brand and a new way of doing things [from when this site was a Hard Rock], but I am still the old me,” Danielle says. “I have been ticketing for close to nine years, and there are some bucket list things that I would love to check off. I would love to do an EDC, a Coachella, an Olympics and a Super Bowl. If I have to move temporarily, I will do that, but I will always have my heart in Las Vegas. It is the land of shows and is unquestionably in the top cities for entertainment.”
There is no hesitation when Danielle talks about Las Vegas as a great city in which to be entertained and to work in entertainment. She does, however, pause thoughtfully and respectfully when asked about the greatest love of her life.
“It’s my mom,” Danielle says with clear conviction. “My mom raised me with my grandmother, and we were three generations in one household. She survived the death of my father, and we had a household together for 25 years. I wanted to protect her because I saw so many things coming at us.”
Danielle pauses again, then continues. “If we are looking at material things I love, I would say ballet. From the time that I was a very small child, I have been a performer. I can remember putting on leotards and watching the Academy Awards, watching the Emmys, all the awards shows. I always envisioned myself in the arts in some kind of way. And when my feet failed me at 19, I had to divert that vision to something else that I could do in the arts.”
So, while she has long since moved into the business of entertainment through successful positions in ticketing and customer experience, the performer in Danielle is always there, and singing is something she loves to do in her spare time.
“I love karaoke,” she says. “I will not go to karaoke by myself, but when I am invited and there is a group of us, I love singing a song that absolutely rocks, ‘Hurts So Good’ by John Mellencamp. My favorite, though, is ‘Who Knew from The Truth About Love.’ It is a song that Pink did years ago that I think I do very, very well. The last time I was at karaoke I got invited by a member of The Platters to come sing with his group. The first thing I asked is, ‘What does the contract look like?’” Danielle says, laughing in fond recollection of that moment. “He said, ‘I thought you just want to sing?’ I said, ‘No, I want to sing to get paid.’ That’s a bucket list thing, too. I want to tour the U.S. or abroad as a background singer. I do not necessarily want to be the person in front, but if you have the talent, why not get paid for it?”
Danielle says she “comes from the beginnings of hard rock” and enjoys hearing those songs playing through the casino where she works. “Because of the education of working in the ticket office, I even like screamo. I did not think I would like screamo, but I like it! The ticket office has always opened the door for me [even with music]. You never know everything, and there is always more to learn.”
When asked about her favorite artist, Danielle is quick to respond.
“The easy answer is Sting because he wrote ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales,’” she says. “I have personally warped three of those CDs [from listening to them so frequently], and when he toured with the London Symphony, I got to see that performance and see those songs in an entirely different way. I was a teenager in the ’80s, so I loved him in the denim jackets, in the leather jackets, in jeans, with the safety pins and all that stuff. To see what he has done with those songs and to change them all around, to go to Broadway and do different things and then bring them back to what he does on stage. Oh, my God! Why does he have so much soul? I do not think my life would be complete without ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales.’ I just love those songs.”
Another artist with a place in Danielle’s heart is Cher — she is the person whom she most admires.
“I have watched Cher since I was probably 4 or 5 years old, and I have seen her 13 times. She sings the songs that I love, she always does great costume changes, and she stands up for what she believes in, whether that is LGBTQ rights or animal rights,” Danielle says. “She also stands up for her family, she stands up for her son [Chaz, who came out as a transgender man in 2009], she stands up for her mom, she stands up for her sister. She is my deepest icon.”
Something else that Danielle cares deeply about is accessible seating.
“One of the greatest challenges that I have seen in the last few years is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) seating,” she says, adding that it is important to provide the same excellent service to every patron while being respectful and remembering to ask the right questions versus ones that are intrusive or violate a person’s human rights. “Medical issues are your business, and our business is selling tickets.”
That said, Danielle continues, “we need to fine-tune how we [address these situations to ensure an appropriate seat is offered]. There are a lot of single people in Las Vegas. too, so I feel very strongly about what that looks like, and we cannot necessarily fill every ticket as a pair for that kind of situation. Are there enough ADA seats? That is another thing. Is the front of the orchestra great [for you as a patron or] is the back of the orchestra [better]? You may have mobility issues, or maybe you have sight challenges.”
Danielle says she is starting to have some mobility issues of her own and that this is giving her even better insight into the importance of accessibility equity in ticketing.
“I do not necessarily want to be all the way at the front of a venue because it is going to be hard for me to get out once the show is over and everybody begins to leave. I also question why I have to buy two seats when I am only one person. How are we changing that dynamic, because, as we all get older, [the need] is growing and we are going to have more and more people that will have that need in the next 20 years. How do we make it easier?”
Something that has made Danielle’s life easier — or perhaps more fulfilling is a better way to describe it — is her membership and active participation in INTIX. The organization offers her opportunities to learn, mentor, network and give back.
“I am a student [of INTIX] because I am looking for opportunities [to learn and help] my ticketing career to move forward, from being an agent and a lead to being a supervisor, a manager and possibly a director of entertainment. I have always been a mentor to other ticketing pros because I was a trainer in the box office, and I always try to give positive feedback with our Women in Ticketing Facebook page,” Danielle says. “I have been on the Education Committee for three years, and I have been doing it to try to give people opportunities. INTIX also gives me the support of many people sharing, because I am always learning and pushing forward to return to ticketing full time.”
In the meantime, Danielle continues to work hard and is preparing to learn even more by returning to complete her college studies. Going back to school in her later years is what she considers to be her greatest achievement.
“I studied hospitality, but my major is business administration. I am actually getting ready to start the last five classes. I am very close. I had to take a little breather. There’s a lot going on with this pandemic. I hope to start at the beginning of next year, 2022. With DeVry, it is accelerated learning, so within eight weeks you are done with a class, so I hope to finish at least three classes and then graduate in 2023. It has been a long road. I took one class at a time. Working two jobs [Danielle is also an usher at The Venetian], doing coursework and trying to pay bills. It has been a lot, but I am determined.”
This passionate resolve will continue to serve Danielle well as she rises through the ranks creating incredible guest experiences, all while keeping her eyes and heart open for that dream full-time ticketing role.
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Tags: Memberships , Leadership