It’s the holiday season, and our campus is booming with three productions happening at once: A Christmas Carol, Singin’ in the Rain, and Olney Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker. As our audiences step through our doors and into our theaters, they are greeted by front of house and box office staff who have become much like family to many of our patrons. The woman behind our front of house and patron services team is none other than Julie Via. Julie Via has been the Patron Services Manager for three years, and I was able to chat with her about what she loves about this role and Olney.
Can you describe what a Patron Services Manager does in a few sentences?
So here at OTC, the Patron Services Manager is responsible for all of our Front of House staff which includes our house managers and concessions. They are also responsible for our gift shop, which was newly renovated in 2017. As the Patron Services Manager, I am also responsible for everything that has to do with our volunteer usher program and parking.
What’s your favorite aspect of the job?
Working with patrons and overcoming challenges. It’s all about taking a situation that may not be ideal and making it better for someone. It’s then a joy to see them come back in the future knowing that you succeeded.
How do you go about choosing the items in the gift shop and our specialty cocktails?
Designing the specialty cocktails and picking out specialty items in the gift shop is usually something that I start during the design run of the show, and that’s when I can get a feel for the show and pick themed items that are appealing and related to the show.
We always try to have a wide variety of price range items. For Singin’ in the Rain, the umbrellas we have in there now were a natural choice since this show has “rain” in the title. They are also an item that we’ve never had in our gift shop before, which is always fun. The blankets are something that I have been wanting to have for a while as well as the chatterheads of Paul Morella which have been in discussion for years now. It’s become a tradition to have an ornament each year during our holiday musical, much like the specialty cocktail, the smoking bishop, which is sold during A Christmas Carol in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab.
In terms of how I choose items, it’s a little bit of talking with other people. We work with Gorman’s down the street, which is always nice because they are a community organization and always do such a wonderful job for us.
What has been your work experience up until now?
I have worked at Olney in the past before this role. I was an intern before there was the apprentice program that we have today. So in 1996-97, I lived here for that season as a costume shop intern. It’s been full circle to be back and working with some of the people I did then. Between my times here at Olney, I spent several years as an Equity Stage Manager at the Kennedy Center as well as at Studio Theatre. Eventually, I transitioned to Enterprise Rent-A-Car and worked there for seven years, starting from renting cars to car sales. From there, I transitioned to new home sales which I did for 12 years. So I have a lot of training in consultative sales, customer service, schedules, etc. I got to a point where I wanted to get back into working in theatre, so patron services seemed like a natural fit because it’s a culmination of my work experience up until this point.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue Patron Services?
You need patience, understanding, and the ability to work with all types of people. If you are good at hosting a party, patron services tends to those kinds of skills. We are hosting a performance: the cast is performing the art, and we are providing the inviting atmosphere.
Do you have any fun facts about yourself?
I grew up in Las Vegas, and I went to Las Vegas High School which was the very first high school there. When I was in Las Vegas, one of my first jobs was puppeteering at the hotel and casino Excalibur. Another fun fact is that I was an extra in Forrest Gump (the scene that takes place around the reflecting pool) because the production team came to Montgomery College looking for extras.
As we ended the conversation, Julie had something else to add:
I do want to say, my favorite part about working at OTC is the people. I would not be able to do my job without the team behind me. Coming here, it’s like coming home to a family and that’s what makes it special to me and to many of the patrons who frequent here.