Leadership / 12.20.21
Getting to Know You 2021 Annual Roundup
It has often been said that people do not choose a career in ticketing; it chooses them. Or, put another way, it is something they somehow just fall into. This turned out to be a common theme over the past year as we interviewed INTIX members for our popular “Getting to Know You” series. Some have been in the ticketing industry for their entire working lives. Others have broadened their horizons but, in their new roles, still provide a valuable service to ticketers. Still others have left the ticket office for a variety of reasons but long to come back. There is, of course, more to their stories, but our 2021 roundup excerpts provide some insight into why these INTIX members ended up in what Maureen Andersen calls this “incredibly exciting, wonderful, exasperating, heartbreaking, chaotic, rewarding, maddening, stimulating, joyful world” of ticketing.
Danielle Howard Varnado was working in the airline industry when she moved to Las Vegas in 2005. It didn’t take her long before she gambled — on a new career.
“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. “My biggest love is Broadway, and my second love would be concerts, opera, philharmonic and ballet,” she says. “All of this is encapsulated in The Smith Center for the Performing Arts (where I began in ticketing). Working in the ticket office was always on my bucket list because ticketing professionals are so eclectic, so inventive and so very creative.”
Danielle later spent four years in the box office at the former Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. After it closed, it was renovated and rebranded as the Virgin Hotel. Danielle was hired as a Casino Host and, although she gives 110% to her current job, she still dreams of getting back into ticketing on a full-time basis.
When Paul Froehle was still in high school, he got a part-time job at Gambles, the retail chain where his father worked all his life. While there, he met a man who worked in the Minnesota North Stars organization. Next thing you know, Paul was working for the team, too.
“At Gambles, I met a man who drove the Zamboni at the Minnesota North Stars games,” Paul says. “He told me they were hiring and got me an interview. It turned out the person who interviewed me knew my dad. I started working there as an usher and did all the background work. I put deodorizers in storage closets. I did inventory, worked security, worked concerts and other events, and then worked on the operations side. Eventually, over the course of 11 years, I worked my way up to become Assistant Ticket Manager. I owe it all to my father, the one person I admire the most. He was a very hardworking man. He was dedicated to his employer, and he worked for one company his whole life. I think I kind of followed in his footsteps by being really diligent and signing on with the view to helping grow a business and making a difference.”
Today, Paul is Vice President of Ticket Operations for the Minnesota Twins, a job he has held since late 1985.
Paul’s story began as an usher in the 1970s.
Mara Hazzard-Wallingford says her career in ticketing began as a “side hustle.” She was pursuing a graduate degree in music performance. Fully focused on her studies, she never considered taking a job behind the scenes until the woman who was to become her mentor, Kim Noltemy, now CEO of the Dallas Symphony and Mara’s boss at the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) at the time, took her aside.
“Kim was the first person to sit me down and say, ‘Look, arts administration is a real career path that you should consider because you are very talented.’ She opened up pathways to me that I was blind to.” Mara started her career in the ticket office and, 20 years later, is still well entrenched in the industry as Chief Growth Officer at Tessitura.
Mara on stage at a Tessitura conference.
Jason Varnish started off his career as a “brick-and-mortar box-office guy” working at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena. He realized early on that “ticketing is not a 9-to-5 job. You are there until the job is done.”
Jason went on to found Box Office Management (BOM) Advisers, a North American ticketing operations and event staffing agency, possibly sending others down the path to a career they never thought they would have in ticketing. During the pandemic, Jason was a driving force to keep live entertainment alive, which meant he had to pivot his business.
“I was just trying to stay active, and that was the trend,” he says, so he started doing shows in old drive-in movie theaters. “I liked that at least we were doing something different, and even though some of my shows were in a drive-in that was built in the 1920s and my box office was a spider-infested shed that sold hard tickets, we were at least doing something. I like to think of it as a little ray of sunshine, a beacon of hope — kind of like, ‘Hey, guys, things are happening.’”
Jason and his family help celebrate the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup victory in 2009.
Cat Spencer started her career in the insurance industry. She might have ended up selling car or home insurance but as Business Development Director for Booking Protect, a global refund protection company based in the United Kingdom, her job revolves around ticketing. It all started with a passion for live theatre.
“I had my first real theatre experiences as a child (at the Bolton Octagon Theatre in Worcester). Going there was really what sparked my interest in this whole industry.”
Cat continues, “I have been [at Booking Protect] since pretty much the beginning in 2014, and I have been responsible for taking it from its grassroots right through to being an award-winning company. We have 4,000 reviews on customer review sites with an excellent rating,” Cat says. “It has been such a huge opportunity and such a great experience to learn, and I am just so proud of what we have built. As a manager, I love my team contributing their own thoughts, because you are a team at the end of the day. If one person could do the job in isolation, then one person would do it. It takes a team and a whole group of different ideas to make things work well.”
Winning awards with Booking Protect.
Like so many others, Skypp Cabanas fell into ticketing almost by accident. “I used to be a singer,” he says. “I did musical theatre when I was a kid all the way up through college, but I was not getting any gigs anymore as an actor or a performer. I would audition for shows, and I started to realize that the only shows that I was going to get were anything that had an Asian character, because back then there was no such thing as blind casting, so that is the reason I went into ticketing. I have George Oswell to thank for that, may he rest in peace.”
Earlier, when Skypp was attending classes in San Diego, he would go hang out in Oswell’s theater conservatory ticket office when he was bored between classes.
“George would show me the ticket racks, and I would sit and watch him work with the customers in the lobby. Little did I know that seeds of working in the ticket office were being planted in my head. Later, I had the honor of introducing George when he received a lifetime achievement award for being part of San Diego Junior Theatre for so long. When I got up on stage, I was basically a product of who he was.”
Today, Skypp is Senior Manager of Ticket Operations for one of the largest theatre companies in the nation, the nonprofit Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles.
How you get from an Ohio farm to Oakland Coliseum is anyone’s guess. But for Josh Ziegenbusch, it all began as a youngster watching a Saturday baseball game. The Oakland Athletics had come to play the hometown Cincinnati Reds, and Josh says he was an instant fan of the team from away.
“The players on the team just looked different, dressed differently and their personalities were larger than life. I have been a fan of the A’s ever since.”
Not only is Josh a fan, but he also recently celebrated his 20th anniversary working for the team. He started as a ticket services representative, and after rising through the ranks is now Senior Director of Service and Retention.
10-year-old Josh was converted to an A’s fan.
Having been educated in theatre and dance at Texas State University, one might wonder why Geo Haynes did not become a performer. But Geo chose to work behind the scenes where he is “creating magical experiences” by providing great service to customers. He did exactly that for many years with the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center in San Francisco. Today Geo describes himself as a “ticketing consultant” and, at the time of his interview, he had just finished a gig with the Life is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas.
“Our industry is very adaptable,” Geo says. “It does not matter what situation you put our tribe and our ticketing family in, we can make it work. We get in the trenches, and if we have to fold up tables or chairs, if we have to go clean toilets and figure out how to get this building ready to open, we are ready to jump in and do whatever it is [that needs to be done]. I think our job is transferable to any job in any company. If you think about it, we are the accountant, we make sure the staff is happy, we are the counselors, we are everything.”
Life is Beautiful Festival, 2021, main gate crew
When it comes to life choices, you might say Mandi Grimm is the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. Her parents were both in the travel industry. Today, Mandi is the training director for Etix, a global web-based ticketing provider for the entertainment, travel and sports industries. She got into the ticketing industry early on, even as she struggled to get through university. It took her a decade to get her undergraduate degree while working full time.
Mandi started working as a ticket seller at what was then the Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, now the Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek. Mandi has remained in ticketing ever since. Looking back on her journey to date, she says it has been one big learning experience.
“Our industry is amazing, and I love to learn new things,” she says. “I have been able to wear multiple hats, create different projects and work on different things. I have also had such great fortune to meet so many fantastic people because of my job. I have been able to build wonderful client and colleague relationships, and I have been able to learn so much about the different types of venues and different things within the industry. With my role right now, I oversee our training department, so I get to work with all sorts of clients based on how they need to use our ticketing system. I can learn so much about what they do, and I am able to communicate that with venues of different types and sizes. I also oversee and co-manage the fraud and chargeback department. Learning all about that has been amazing, too.”
Like so many others, Eric Valley fell into the ticketing industry after selling tickets part time when he was still in university. And what a beginning it was. In his website bio, he jokes that he “ran away with the circus” in 2001 and toured Europe for two years.
Eric with daughter Mariana in the Corteo by Cirque du Soleil tour ticket office.
After 16 years with Cirque du Soleil, he decided to go a different route, launching a new career as a consultant and subsequently co-founding TICTACTIX, a ticketing services company in Montreal, Canada. Offering his experience to serve other organizations in this way has given him the chance to continue learning. “As every venue, promoter or sports team has a different reality and culture, it is the constant adaptation and change in mandates that keeps me motivated,” he says.
This is clearly just what Eric needs as he enters the second half of his professional life. “I hate repetitive work and tasks, and I am very fortunate to have very little repetition in my job. I also love the fact that there is a lot of room to be creative in ticketing. People may have heard me say this before, but I like the idea that we are the gateway to life-changing experiences. I love concerts, artistic or sporting events, and I feel fortunate that my job is getting people in the venues for them to live unique experiences.”
Tammy Enright got her first ticketing job in 2005 at Arena Stage, a not-for-profit regional theatre in Washington, D.C. While she has spent most of her professional life in and around the U.S. nation’s capital, she has roots in a lot of different places in the industry. This includes opening the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio, working for Tickets.com as the client manager to the Washington Nationals until she was furloughed because of the pandemic, and being an active member of INTIX, including six years of service on the board.
Sharing a quote that she identifies with, Tammy begins, “I always think of professional growth like plants: ‘Aspens grow tall to reach the sun, for sure. But dandelions grow deep, understanding themselves fully so that if some misguided fool tries to uproot them, they would have to try damn hard. And then there’s thyme and other creeping plants, which spread themselves out so much that if you chop a part of it off, it roots wherever it can find dirt to root in.’ I feel like that is what I have done.”
Tammy with some of her ticketing family at INTIX 2020 in New York, from left: Ali Barry, Tammy, Dave Winn and Shawn Robertson.
In case you didn’t click and read about your INTIX peers along the way, here are links to all of the feature stories referenced above. You can also check out the other stories we have published over the past four years via our INTIX “Getting to Know You” Interviews page.
Danielle Howard Varnado
If there is someone you would like to see profiled in a future story, or if you would like to be interviewed yourself, please share your recommendations with the INTIX Access editorial team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out our 2020 INTIX “Getting to Know You” roundup to get to know even more members.
Tags: Leadership , ticketing pros