Leadership / 11.23.21
Thanks (and Thankful) For the Memories — Part 1
INTIX sends warm thanks and heartfelt gratitude to David Cushing, Teri McPherson, Mardi Dilger, John Harig and Linda Forlini. In total, these incredible ticketing professionals provided almost 200 years of collective service and expertise to our industry. The INTIX and broader entertainment ticketing community is better because you are in it and because you walked among us.
At this most thankful time of year for our U.S. members, and as our industry continues to recover, reopen and reinvent itself, we were honored to speak with several of the most seasoned ticketing professionals in our INTIX circle. Most of our interviewees have already retired, while another is winding down her career and preparing to start her retirement at the end of the year. They graciously shared memories, told us what they enjoyed about their careers in this wonderful industry and kindly offered sage advice to newcomers.
When he was in his mid-20s, David Cushing had planned to settle on the East Coast when a visit to San Francisco changed everything. Not only did he remain in the Bay Area, but he also stayed with the same theatrical production company (SHN, later renamed BroadwaySF) for the rest of his working life.
“Ticketing provided me with something that I loved in the Bay Area and allowed me to live here for the past 40 years,” David says. “I was about to move to New York in 1981, and I came out here for spring break. When I got here, I knew this was where I wanted to live. I am very thankful that SHN provided the opportunity for me to live here and to do something that I really enjoyed.”
David retired as Vice President of Ticketing for BroadwaySF at the end of 2020 — in the middle of the pandemic. He had just turned 65. Reflecting on that decision, he says, “It just seemed like a good time to make a change. Not knowing what the world was going to be like post-pandemic, I did not know if I really wanted to participate in that. After working for 40 or 50 years, I had to ask myself what I really wanted to do now.”
He has no regrets about the career path he chose for himself and is especially proud of all that he was able to accomplish. A career high point came in 2010.
“That’s when we brought everything back in house,” he says. “We had been with Ticketmaster for a decade or more. The challenge of creating our own call center, our own group sales, subscriptions, single tickets, bringing that all under one roof was something that I am really proud of.”
Indeed, David loved working in what he describes as a “hyperactive environment of constant problem solving,” although he concedes it made it difficult for him to adjust to a quieter life in retirement.
“My job was very challenging,” he says. “There always seemed to be some situation that had to be dealt with. I do not think I was emotionally prepared for retirement. I think it might have been a little less, for lack of a better word, ‘complicated’ for me had there not been a pandemic. You really could not do anything, so there were not a lot of ways at the time to distract myself or be out in the world trying new things and doing new things. I dealt with the emotional part of it for about six months of 2021. It was tough going from being go, go, go all the time to suddenly not going anywhere.”
But, if there is one thing he learned over the course of his career, it was to be patient. “That has really served me well in life in general,” he says.
Today, David is thankful for having found a way forward by pursuing his creative interests.
“I am trying to use my free time as I want to use it and not really committing myself to things that I do not want to commit myself to,” he says. “I found a great pottery studio and started taking a pottery wheel throwing class and I am doing some pottery hand building as well. I would say that's where I am spending the majority of my creative time. I am there two or three times a week, and that keeps me busy.”
David creating art at a pottery studio an hour from his home.
Like so many others, Teri McPherson fell into the ticketing business. Nearly 40 years later, she fell out of it. Furloughed by San Diego Theatres in 2020, she now describes herself as a “COVID retiree.” Although Teri left her lifelong career several years before she had planned, she is grateful for what she had then and for what she has now.
“Like most people, you get sucked into it,” she says. “In my case, I started in ticketing in 1979 when I was going to school at San Diego State and needed a job to pay my tuition. I got a job in the ticket office. After I graduated and got my degree, I ended up at The Old Globe Theatre here in San Diego for about a year and then was actually moving to Sacramento to take a job with the city when all their positions were frozen due to budget issues. This was back in 1983, I think. That is when I heard about a position with San Diego Theatres, and they called and asked if I would come down and talk to them. I was hired that day. The rest is history. I was there officially for just under 37 years.”
Teri (left) is thankful for and loves to golf.
Teri spent most of her career in ticketing and development fundraising but, as with most front office staff, she says she did everything, including cleaning venues, dealing with patrons, planning events and financials.
“I adored my job most of the time,” she says. “The people were the best and we would always laugh and say, ‘Why are we working 50, 60 hours a week? Why are we here seven days a week? Why do we do what we do, and nobody really seems to care?’ But, when that curtain goes up and you know you had a hand in making it happen, it is amazing. I cannot tell you why I stayed for that long other than the fact that I was never bored. Just knowing the people with like minds that did our jobs when we knew we were not going to get any thanks for it, but we did our jobs for each other, for the community, for the staff and for the pure love of the venues.”
San Diego Theatres became a nonprofit in 2003, and Teri worked with a small, core group of dedicated people who served together for many years before that and many years after.
“We helped to build a unique and successful nonprofit performing arts service organization. In other words, we were a nonprofit where our goal was to help other nonprofits. I think the core of people that worked for that, built that and always kept in mind that we were doing this for other people was my highlight. It is a very rare group that sticks around together and for that long. You learn that your staff is everything. If you do not take care of them, then it makes your job a whole lot harder. I think probably my best advice to those in a similar role is to express your opinions and fight for what you know is right because there are people depending on you to do that for them.”
Teri with her beloved dog.
As for the ticketing professionals who are still working passionately to advance the industry, what advice does she have for them?
“Do whatever you can do to save money. For most ticketing people, their pay is not commensurate with the amount of work that they do or the importance of the work they do. Anything you can do to save money and to plan for your exit strategy one day, do it. You never know. Like I said, I had 37 years and I was planning to work four more years. I had my plan, but always know that even though you have a plan, it could change in a moment. So be prepared for it to change.”
Change is never easy, but while Teri says the past few months have in some ways been the worst of times, they also have been the best of times. She is thankful she can now spend more time with her 93-year-old father who still lives on his own. “I am really thankful for that,” she says. “Because I worked so much all the time that I never really spent a whole lot of time with him.” Her husband of 30 years also is retired, and they have a cabin in the woods that “always needs something done on it.” She also is a passionate gardener and crafter, loves walking her dog, plays golf and enjoys driving her beloved Corvette.
Teri and her husband in Catalina.
“I love being able to decide what I feel like doing when I wake up. I have so many things that I can do that sometimes it is tough for me to pick one and settle down and do it. I am one of those stream of consciousness people like ticketing people are. I will be doing something and then I go, ‘Oh look, there is something shiny over here!’”
On a final note, Teri cannot help but think of the people who continue to work through these challenging times and, in many cases, may still face an uncertain future.
“Do not forget to look up. Do not forget to breathe,” she says. “Do not forget to take a step back. I cannot imagine working right now in ticketing. I look back, and while I miss my family there and the people there, while I miss the cause that we all worked for, so much has changed in this world. The circumstances under which ticketing people are working now are probably worse than any of the things that we have gone through in this industry over the whole time that I have been involved with it. I would encourage people to make sure that they really are taking care of themselves, taking care of their staff and also drawing the line of when they will say ‘enough.’ Also re-evaluate and make sure you are doing what you are doing, and that it is not trying to bail out a boat with a teaspoon.”
Mardi Dilger is packing up her home (and beloved ticketing dog, Bob) in Miami and preparing to retire with her husband in their home state of Minnesota in the New Year. For the past decade, they have had a “long distance” marriage. The decision to live and work apart was a “personal sacrifice,” but one which — thankfully — worked out just fine for everyone.
Mardi and Bob.
“I made a choice to step away from my family in Minnesota and come here and live in Florida,” Mardi says. “My children were adults, but my husband still lived there, my daughter lived there ... It could have been bad, but we made it work together.”
Mardi and “hubs.”
Mardi has always followed opportunities that presented themselves over the past three decades which, unlike some others featured in this article, led her to changing employers and venues from time to time. She joined the Miami Marlins a decade ago and is retiring as Director of Ticket Operations on December 31. Before taking on that position, she spent five years with Tickets.com in three distinct roles and, still earlier, she was Director of Meet Minneapolis and Ticket Office Manager for Fargodome, an indoor athletic stadium in North Dakota.
Why ticketing? Well, just as it has been for many others, Mardi did not just wake up one morning and decide, “I think I will get into the ticketing business.”
“I did not choose ticketing,” Mardi says. “It chose me, and many, many people I have talked to in ticketing, they never chose to do this. It chose them. I was a singer, dancer and actor on stage, and like all singer/dancer/actors, they need that big break. I did not have that big break. I needed to eat, so I went to work in the in the front office instead and could still play with the theater while feeding my family. I started out writing paper tickets at the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre in 1985. When I needed to take another job, I went to Fargodome as a part-time ticket seller. Within six months, I was running the game. Ticketing just kept offering me opportunities, and it was exciting. Nobody goes to school to be a ticketing professional. Ticketing is not something you stay with or do not stay with. It gets in your blood and it is exciting. It is what you know, and it is not just venue ticketing; it is vendor ticketing, it is different companies that do ticketing, it is different levels of ticketing. I just followed the opportunities.”
Mardi and her family in the early days.
It is no surprise then that her advice for anyone just getting into the industry, no matter how that might have happened, is to take full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
“Do not be afraid to take the leap,” Mardi says. “You can always go back, but you will never know if you did not take that step forward. Ask for the promotion. They can say no, but if you do not ask, you will never know if you would have gotten it. I took a lot of risks. I had a job at the Fargodome that was very comfortable, but I was a little bit on the bored side, doing the same thing over and over and over again. Although the ticketing industry is not a boring thing, you can only do so many Ringling Brothers [Barnum and Bailey Circus]. You can only do so many Disney on Ice, you can only do so many football games. I needed to do something different, and so I took a leap of faith, went and worked for the City of Minneapolis, opened a new business. And when that started to slow down, I went to work for Tickets.com. That was another big leap of faith. I had never worked on the vendor side before, and I always knew that if it did not work out, I could always go back. But I would never know had I not taken that step.”
Mardi has given that advice to many young people and mentored them in other ways, too. She says it is always a high point when one of them contacts her years later and lets her know how they are doing.
“I think the moments that mean the most are when somebody that worked for me reaches out years later and says, ‘You know, you pushed me, you were one of the best people. I am still happy to like you and be with you and follow you.’ It is just making those kinds of relationships. Even though it's not a day-to-day friendship kind of thing, knowing that you changed someone's life, you helped them do what you still love to do, that is definitely a high point in my career.”
Mardi also says that networking is incredibly important as you build your career. It also goes beyond helping you professionally because you will make incredible, like-minded friends along the way.
“When I was working at the Fargodome, I met some of the most amazing people that are still to this day some of my closest people, including Paul Froehle, Joe Carter and Rosalba Corsino. These are people that I truly in my heart love and would never have had such a full life without learning [from] and getting to know these people,” she says.
Mardi with Paul Froehle (center) and Joe Carter (right).
Before leaving the subject, Mardi felt compelled to share one last but very important piece of advice for those starting out in the industry. She recognizes that she is very fortunate to be able to retire comfortably and hopes that others will one day be able to do so as well. She suggests newcomers keep a long-range outlook on life and plan for the future. Talk to a financial planner, make sure your money is well managed and put money away at as early of an age as you can, she recommends.
“A lot of people live for today or ‘for Friday’ as my husband and I like to say. They make enough money to get to Friday, and then they make enough money the next week to get through to Friday. We try to focus on getting to the following Tuesday and then the following Wednesday and then the next month. We wanted to always make sure to put enough money away so we could retire. I think that's really a lost art right now. Talk to a financial planner, get a plan put together, even if it's $5 a week beyond your 401k.”
Thanks to their own planning and personal sacrifice, Mardi and her husband are very much looking forward to a “life of leisure,” although they will not be sitting still for very long.
Mardi’s three grandsons.
“We have such a bucket list! I have three little grandsons, and I cannot wait to spend as much time with them as possible. They live in L.A., and our very first trip in February is to spend a month in L.A. We rented a little bungalow on the beach, and we are going to spend a month with the little ones. We call them our ‘littles.’ And then we are going to slowly drive back to Minnesota and spend the warmer months at the lake in Minnesota. We are going to get up on a random Tuesday and say, ‘Let's go drive to Colorado and look at the mountains,’ and then we are going to do it. Or, we are going to say, ‘Do you know what? In two or three months, let's go to Australia and visit our friend, OK?’ Just little things like that, just being able to be together and do things. We lost 10 years of being able to sit side by side and hold each other's hand, and I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to holding his hand and going for a walk. We are really looking forward to it.”
The memories continue in Part 2 of “Thanks (and Thankful) For the Memories.” Read more.
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Tags: Leadership , ticketing pros