Advice for Job Seekers: A Q&A with Camille Schenkkan
Job seeking strategies from a performing arts administrator
Looking to launch a career in the arts? We recently sought advice from someone who has done just that – Camille Schenkkan, the Program Manager for Next Generation Initiatives at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. She’s also the Managing Director for Circle X Theatre Co., sits on the Advisory Board for Emerging Arts Leaders/LA, and is an Issue Expert in Arts Education and Board Development for the Kennedy Center’s Alliance for Arts Education. She served as co-chair of the National Emerging Leader Council from 2010 – 2013.
NYFA: Tell us about your job. What do you do?
CS: I work in the Education and Community Partnerships Department for Center Theatre Group CTG, the largest theatre in the Western states. My job is unique, even at large arts organizations: I focus on providing career skills and information to the next generation of artists and arts leaders. This includes developing leadership programs for high school teens, managing a robust internship program (we offer 50 paid internships to undergraduates and graduate students annually!), and introducing students to hundreds of viable arts careers through free workshops, special events and more.
NYFA: How did you secure this position?
CS: My last job was with an advocacy organization, Arts for LA, and part of my portfolio was managing an online job board. I saw this job go up and knew immediately that it was what I wanted to do. I spent hours researching CTG, the department, my future boss, and the programs that I would be running, and probably did 20 drafts of my cover letter and resume. When I got the interview, I did even more research, practiced with friends, and made sure I could articulate why my combination of mentorship experience and program management made me the best one for the job.
NYFA: What do you like the most about your job?
CS: The full range of careers in the arts is largely invisible until you’re in college… if you’re lucky. High school theatre students can name four, maybe five careers in professional theatre. College acting majors may receive extensive training in the Stanislavsky method but can’t tell you the difference between an agent or a manager (or if they’ll need one post-graduation). And I think I had a two-week segment on arts management as a theatre major, even though it’s a rich, rewarding and very competitive sector! My job is opening emerging professionals’ eyes to the variety of careers they can pursue, and giving them tools to start down those paths. Watching someone discover production management or fall in love with prop design is the best feeling in the world.
NYFA: You started working at Circle X Theatre as a volunteer. How have experiences as an intern or volunteer been helpful to you?
CS: I became Circle X’s Development Director when I was a sophomore in college. I learned on my feet and had a great mentor, Circle X’s Artistic Director, to help me figure things out. Volunteering helped me get my hands dirty in arts management and gave me opportunities to meet hundreds of people in Los Angeles’ vibrant theatre community. Circle X is my artistic home and I’m grateful to have a space where I can produce new work and exercise my business brain as the Managing Director!
NYFA: If you had to re-do something you have done in your career, what would it be?
CS: So far everything’s been great. I try to work hard, pay attention to opportunities, be a good colleague and recognize when I need to take a night off and have a margarita.
NYFA: Tell us about your role on the advisory board of Emerging Arts Leaders.
CS: Emerging Arts Leaders/Los Angeles (EALLA) is one chapter of a nationwide organization affiliated with the service organization Americans for the Arts. EALLA’s programming provides free professional development and networking opportunities to early-career artists and arts managers. In 2005, I was part of a group that revitalized the network, and eventually I served on the national Emerging Leader Council and moved to the Advisory Board of EALLA. Now, some of my early EALLA colleagues are working on starting a post-emerging-leader meet up group. We miss the collegiality… and the happy hours!
NYFA: How would you advise someone who is looking for a career in performing arts administration?
CS: Be proactive in asking people for informational interviews. Come with questions and a notebook. Send a thank-you note. Be curious about the people you meet. Networking is important—if you hate it, volunteer for things so you can work check-in and still meet people. BE NICE TO EVERYONE. This is a tiny field. Be humble, work very hard, and never send a form letter with a job application (assume they’re getting 300 applications… you need to make your case!).
NYFA: What current art activities would you recommend to people visiting LA in the next few weeks?
CS: Use LA Stage Tix to find $10 tickets to some of LA’s hundreds of high-quality small theatres—you can see a cool new play in a 30-seat house. You can also check out the site ExperienceLA.com to see what festivals, special events or performances are happening in LA on any given day. There’s always a ton going on!
To find positions in performing arts administration, search NYFA’s national job board.