Leadership / 04.27.23
There Is Always Lots of Love in Shawn Robertson’s Ticketing Life
“The energy of New York City and Broadway is unlike anything else,” Shawn Robertson says as he reflects on the 30-plus years he has spent in entertainment and live events. But Shawn’s career is not on the stage and nowhere near Times Square. For almost 14 years, Shawn has been Ticket Sales Director for the Center Theatre Group (CTG) in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s largest theatre companies. It is a big role in which Shawn oversees six departments that generate over $50 million in annual ticket sales for CTG’s Mark Taper Forum, Ahmanson Theatre and Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Shawn and his CTG coworkers backstage with Kathy Griffin at the Mark Taper Forum.
“I am fortunate and privileged that I sometimes get to go to New York to see theatre and that I get to call it my job,” he says. “It is two-sided where I am excited as a theatregoer, and then I am also excited because if the show is good, I hope maybe we get it to come to our theater or that we will produce it.”
Before building a successful career in ticketing, this Broadway aficionado started life as a theatre major at Florida Atlantic University. Were it not for a less-than-stellar singing voice, who knows, he may have one day taken center stage himself.
“I was able to dance, I could move, and I could lift the girl. But my singing only makes people cry, and not in a good way,” he says.
After listening to him talk about his college days, it became clear that Shawn has a sense of humor and appreciates the same in others.
“A sense of humor is always going to be something that I find myself attracted to, because challenges can always be lightened with a good sense of humor, especially if it is self-deprecating humor,” he says.
Shawn and his famous bacon propeller hat at INTIX 2022 in Orlando. This hat (and Shawn’s willingness to wear it for a year of Wednesday Wisdom calls) was a successful organic fundraising effort for the INTIX Professional Development & Education Fund.
Other qualities that Shawn values in both his personal and professional life are honesty, accountability and teamwork.
“We all make mistakes, and holding ourselves accountable is important,” he says. “So is being a team player. I am not where I am [today] without the help of others.”
Indeed, since his first job as Assistant Box Office Manager for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale to his current position on the west coast, Shawn has had the good fortune to work for and alongside some great people.
“I love the people I work with,” he says. “Every day, I get to work with smart, strong, independent people, whether I happen to be their supervisor or peer. It is not all about one person. It is about what we do collectively as a team and acknowledging that.”
John Leguizamo met Shawn and the box office team while doing “Latin History for Morons” at the Ahmanson Theatre.
Shawn says, “I also love the rapid advancement of technology and the people behind it. I am so socially oriented that I love problem-solving with people. I also love how we welcome fans, patrons or whatever we call them depending on our particular type of live event. I love how we welcome them into our home, which is our venue, and say, have a good time, maybe even learn something, maybe see yourself on our stages or our courts and fields.”
Sports and, to some extent, the arts, says Shawn, are the greatest reality shows ever.
“[It is all about] seeing what is going to happen,” he says. “What I love is that it all comes back to people, whether it is people I work with or the people who come in our doors, it's that humanness that we all need to remind ourselves of what we share.”
Shawn would be the first to tell you that he’s had some great people in his life, both personally and professionally, who have inspired him.
“My late mother was the most important influence for me on my life [and my greatest love],” he says. “She was a single mom, raised four sons, and had this innate ability to find joy even when things were challenging or hard. [She would do] some of the silliest things. I have some pictures of her where she threw a ‘Blue's Clues’-themed birthday party for herself when she was 55 because she thought that was silly and fun for a woman her age. If I am having a bad day, I always try to remember my mom and her smile.”
Shawn’s mom at her “Blue's Clues”-themed birthday party.
Shawn continues, “What inspires me is seeing people overcome challenges. My sister-in-law right now is recovering from a stroke that she had in October. It is a long struggle, but she stays positive … So, people in my life and people in the world who I see deal with challenges and hardships with positivity [inspire me]. And grace inspires me. I see that in my everyday life, and I see that in the world. That inspires me because it makes me stop [and think when] I am having a difficult day. We are all entitled to have our days. There is no reason not to acknowledge that. Not every day is great, but … you do not want to stay in that [frame of mind], and one way is to remind myself that I am pretty blessed.”
Members of the “Ticket Love” family, L-R, David Winn, Shawn, Alison Barry and Tammy Enright.
On the professional side, Shawn mentioned two people of note — both with an INTIX connection.
“It is going to sound like I am sucking up, but Maureen Andersen is my mentor, not only about ticketing but how to be a human being,” he says. “When my mom was sick 10 years ago, and we were at the conference in Orlando, I had to be on the phone every day because she was recovering. She eventually passed away a few weeks later but was in South Florida, about two hours south of Orlando. Maureen was checking in with me every day because she had lost her mom the previous year. She reminded me that it is a universal feeling, but each one is unique to you because it is your story and your parent.”
He continues, “Also, one of the things I learned from [Maureen] professionally is adaptability. I knew her at The Denver Center for so long, then she reinvented herself and worked for AudienceView, and now she's been with INTIX. In that respect, I would say Maureen has been one of the most influential people whom I have never actually worked with. Obviously, I worked with her while being on the INTIX Board of Directors, but it's not like working [together in a day-to-day role].”
Shawn also counts a person he worked with 30 years ago as an important influence on his life — and it is not because she was his supervisor or a mentor in the truest sense.
“Alison Barry has been a mentor for me professionally and as one of my best friends,” he says. “She is my INTIX wife, and I am her INTIX husband. I learned so much from her because we were both kids. We were both in our early 20s when we met, and now I think of how much has changed in our lives. Her daughter is graduating college. It makes me feel older than dirt to think that I remember before she even met her husband, got married or had kids. [So, two mentors] for different reasons, but similar because they are also just good, kind people.”
Shawn and Alison.
Shawn has been a member of INTIX since the beginning of his career and has looked forward to the conference each year since first attending in 2000.
“It is a place to share ideas,” he says. “This is my first love. It's the first professional organization and conference I ever attended and connected with throughout the year. I have never experienced an environment that has been more helpful to me than the INTIX community and friends.”
Shawn adds, “The most depressed I feel in the year is after the INTIX conference is over because I have such a high and sense of joy being there. That lasts a day or two, and then I take the ideas and energy from it and try to use it in my work and my personal life. But it is usually the high point of my professional year.”
Shawn and friends at INTIX 2018 in Baltimore.
Shawn poses with Seattle Kraken mascot Buoy at INTIX 2023.
In 2017, Shawn was awarded the INTIX Spirit Award, which he proudly yet humbly accepted.
“When I was fortunate enough to be voted by the membership to receive the Spirit Award, one of the things I said in that speech, and it still rings true, is how overwhelming it was to go to my first conference. I always try to remember that when I see people who are there for the first time. How can I make them feel welcome? How can I make them feel included? I've gotten so much from INTIX that it is my duty to pay it forward and pay it back to those who helped me and those who are coming behind us. I'm the older generation now when I used to be the younger, so the generation before me did that for me. It's my job to do that for those coming next.”
Shawn (second from left) holds the INTIX Spirit Award in 2017 alongside “Ticket Love” friends David Winn, Alison Barry and Tammy Enright.
All these years with INTIX have indeed been life-changing for Shawn. He has made many professional connections as well as deep, meaningful friendships. And he values the ample opportunities and people from whom he has learned, plus the helping hands extended to him along the way. “My entire career has been lifted up and, in some ways, changed [by INTIX]. When I was laid off in 2008 [because of the recession], so many of my INTIX friends and colleagues stepped in and tried to help me find a new job through their contacts, or they put me in touch, gave me connections, or just said, ‘If you need anything, let me know.’”
Shawn’s sense of humor surfaced again when we asked what he values most in his friends. “Oh, God. Lie to me. Tell me I'm pretty. I mean, literally tell me I look good in this outfit, even though in your heart I gained 20 pounds,” he says, laughing.
When it comes to friends, Shawn has been fortunate to find a group that is there for each other. “It is not just about them showing up for me, but me showing up for them in a meaningful way so they know they are loved and supported. The pandemic, while it is something that we are all trying to move past, showed in many ways who our real friends are. They are the ones who showed up for each other at a time when the world needed each other the most. And not that we all didn't have our own challenges. I could not be there every day for every person that I wanted to be, but I certainly did as well as I could … You started to figure out who your deep, close friends were and who your acquaintances were.”
L-R: Alison Barry, Tammy Enright, David Winn and Shawn at INTIX 2020 in New York City.
He adds, “Showing up for each other becomes so important, especially as you get older. I am in my 50s. I'm not acquiring many new friends, but I am certainly valuing the ones I have had for a long time.”
Shawn loves the feeling of togetherness that comes with being surrounded by family and friends — the camaraderie of shared memories, especially those involving sports.
“I am a huge sports fan,” he says unabashedly. “And I say that as somebody who works in the theatre and has a theatre degree. Anybody who knows me knows March is my favorite month because I go to the NCAA basketball tournament. What I love about it, aside from the sports themselves, is the memories shared with family and friends, for those of us who go and experience it together. I will also say it is one of the few times that people think I am cool because they can always get a ticket. Sometimes people forget. They say, ‘Yeah, what do you do? I don't understand. Do you work in a theater? How can you get tickets for basketball?’ I'm like, ‘It's a cult. We are all part of it. It's all good.’”
Shawn (third from right) poses with family and friends during their trip to the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio.
So we had to ask — and you are probably wondering the same thing. Who is Shawn’s favorite team and how did that unfold? Well, it all started when he was 11 and met a basketball player who went to the local high school. “His name was Sam Perkins,” Shawn says of the young man who would go on to win an Olympic gold medal and play in the NBA.
“My mom was a regional manager for McDonald's, so when Sam got his McDonald's High School All American Award, I was at the event because she was there as part of her job,” Shawn says. “Sam was just very nice. I don't even remember specifically what he did or said. I just remember the feeling that he was really nice. That I hope he does well. And then I followed him. He went to North Carolina and played with this player who some people probably have heard of named Michael Jordan, and they won a national championship together.”
So, North Carolina became Shawn’s team. And after sharing this defining moment, he revealed the best live event he has ever seen — the 2016 Final Four — even though his team lost. “Villanova hit the three-point shot at the buzzer to beat North Carolina after North Carolina had just hit a three-point shot to tie it, a circus shot the player had no business making. There was shared collective energy.”
Shawn with Otto the Orange at the 2016 Final Four.
This year, Shawn’s alma mater made it to the Final Four. “When I went to school and graduated, we didn't even have a football team. Our basketball team was still Division II. The fact that they made a run this year to the Final Four and I was there [was amazing]. I reconnected with the alumni association. I reconnected with friends from high school and college that I hadn't seen in 20-plus years,” he says. “Florida Atlantic shocked the world, and I now have merchandise and clothing that I'm proudly wearing with the logo on it because now people know where that is.”
Shawn and friends cheer on Florida Atlantic University at the 2023 Final Four.
A proud display of Shawn’s Florida Atlantic University merch.
While Shawn enjoys basketball, his favorite sport and pastime is played on a different court.
“My most treasured possession is my tennis racket,” he says. And by that, Shawn means any tennis racket. “If I was running out of a burning building, I would try to save some personal effects and my tennis rackets because tennis, in the last 20 years since I started playing, has given me some of the greatest personal joy and some of my closest friends.”
He says, “I have dreamed of going to Australia and just need to make it happen. I was going to go in 2020. Like so many of our plans, it got derailed, so it is still on my bucket list to go and see the Australian Open. My 50th year, 2020, was supposed to be a tour of the Grand Slams from Australia to Paris to London to New York City. I have been to the US Open in New York City. I have been to Wimbledon but have not been to the French Open in Paris or the Australian Open in Sydney.”
Because of Shawn’s love of sports, it was no surprise that he mentioned the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as one of his greatest professional achievements. “I know that was 21 years ago, but I was very proud of that, and it is one of the most high-profile things I have done,” he says.
Around the same time, Shawn was also in charge of ticket sales for Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C. And he proudly recalls one particularly busy 24-hour period.
“We moved off-site in the middle of the night in order to start our building renovation. The effort and work that we put into it [was incredible]. We moved our entire company and operations from a Sunday night to a Monday morning, and we never had one hour of downtime with our phones, box office or shows … I have always thought that was amazing. We didn't even close. We literally opened the next day at 10 a.m., and people had no idea our offices had moved [when they called us].”
Moving offices is one thing, but would Shawn want to move himself any time soon?
“My favorite place that I have ever kind of lived is Palm Springs,” he says. “I was in a nine-and-a-half-year relationship while working here at Center Theatre Group, so I used to go to Palm Springs every weekend to spend four days with my partner and our three dogs. It is where I would like to retire, I think. Maybe minus the 120 degrees in the summer.”
But retirement is still a way off. For now, Shawn is enjoying his time in LA and his life there. One wonders, though, what advice he would give himself if he could turn back time. “I think this is something that we all realize as we get older, but don’t care so much about what other people think … Now what I try to say is, unless you are paying my bills, your [opinion] is fine, but it is not relevant to me in the sense of [how] my friends’ opinions will matter. My family's opinions will matter because they are important to me … Give yourself more grace and do not worry about the opinions of others so much.”
Shawn, right, and “Ticket Love” friends on their way to visit the Space Needle during INTIX 2023 in Seattle.
With that and singing still in mind, Shawn could not resist giving a shoutout to another person he admires. “My favorite singer of all time is Madonna,” he says. “I was a young gay boy; I heard her music, and it spoke to me. I also love that she has always been so inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Shawn first heard Madonna’s music when his brother and his brother’s girlfriend “were forced to take me to the movies because my brother was watching me. She was listening to a cassette. It was a new artist who I had never heard of, and I remember hearing that in the car to and from the movie. I thought, ‘Wow, she's really cool.’ And then I went and got it myself. I also discovered shortly thereafter that we have the same birthday. She is 12 years older than me, but I felt like I had this connection to her for some reason, even though it was just random luck.”
He continues, “Madonna is an icon. She has been around for 40 years and is still here. [We should all] give her some credit for still being in the public eye, still having a career, and still being an artist that produces art in a way that can still get people to talk about it.”
Interestingly, it is that feeling that one has both arrived and survived that Shawn reflected on as we close out our story.
“I feel like I have been around a long time,” he says. “The evolution of our industry from when I started doing this in 1990 to 2023 boggles my mind if I stop and think of everything. But fortunately, evolution happens gradually, so you only have to deal with certain things at a certain time. The idea that I'm still here. Maybe that is also a sign of insanity, that I'm still here.”
And with that, it feels rather fitting to cue “I’m Still Here” written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1971 musical “Follies.” For indeed, good times and bum times, Shawn has seen them all. And my dear, he’s still here!
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Tags: Leadership , GTKY