A public relations person must have patience, imagination, determination, a thick skin and be prepared for the unexpected. They don’t seek the limelight; they shine the limelight on others. This is especially true when they work in the theater.
At a recent luncheon, I entertained a dynamic quartet of Queen Anne’s performing arts marketing professionals.
Gary Tucker (Pacific Northwest Ballet) is cheeky, bright and funny, while Jeff Fickes (Seattle Shakespeare Company) is serious and scholarly with a great sense of humor. Katie Jackman (Seattle Repertory Theatre) is sunny, smart and enthusiastic, and Patricia Britton (Book-It Repertory Theatre) is witty, willowy and charming.
It’s clear they love what they do, as they bantered back and forth, sharing their triumphs and tribulations.
Fickes remembers working on a production of Noel Coward’s “The Song at Twilight.” “We hired [an actress] as Carlotta, and she was crazy. She refused to stop smoking during rehearsals. She demanded we order her costumes from a California designer, and then she took them home and we never saw them again. We start previews; she still didn’t know her lines. So the executive director called us into his office: ‘Can we delay the opening?’ And I’m like, ‘Fire her, fire her, fire her!’ They let her perform opening night, then fired her the next day. It was a week-long nightmare — you just wanted the show to end.”
Tucker chimed in: “The first time [a famous choreographer] came to Seattle, she agreed to do an interview. But she was very clear about what she would and would not talk about. I explained to the interviewer. Well, he had obviously not paid attention. So I sat there thinking, is it better to shut down this interview right now or let it play out? I let it play out. And she was furious.”
Jackman had a similar experience. “I worked with Broadway tours at Portland Opera. You remember when “Grease” would rotate the stars? Well, this one particular time, [a famous actor] was in the show. It was the middle ‘90s, when shock-talk radio was all the rage. [He] was supposed to call in; he didn’t. They called him; he hung up on them.
“Of course, my [maiden] name was on everything, so they filled that timeslot by ripping me to shreds: ‘Katie Gottlieb, Katie Gottlieb, who’s this Katie Gottlieb? Clearly, she doesn’t know what’s she’s doing.’ I was all of 23 and was crying.”
The acting bug
These four press mavens have more than one thing in common. At one time or another, they have all worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre.
”Seattle Rep is a fabulous place to work,” Britton said. “You feel like you’re part of a family. Everybody pulls together. You come in and something wonderful happens.” She starts to tear up. “Look at me,” she said, laughing at herself. “I’m getting verklempt. But those are the moments that really speak to me.”
Tucker agrees. ”When those super-nice artists come to town, you just want to hug them all the time. When Kandis Chappell did shows at the Intiman and the Rep, she would bake for the staff. We’re like, ‘Oh, my god, how much do we love you?’”
Fickes, Tucker and Britton all started out as actors. Fickes played chorus roles in the Greek classics “Antigone” and “Oedipus.” Tucker mixed dramatic parts like Creon in “Antigone” with musical theater roles: First Man in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Ambrose in “Hello Dolly” and Mortimer in “The Fantasticks.” And Britton played a range of roles, from dead showgirl to Miranda in “The Tempest” to Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” and Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific.”
In 1988, Britton’s acting led her to Seattle, and she never left. “I was doing theater wherever they would let me act,” she said. “But I eventually got tired of being as poor as I was. So I accidentally fell into doing PR.”
“I had that same conversation with myself,” Tucker remembers. “I knew if I tried to be an actor, it would be a constant struggle. I was thinking, ‘Do I want to pursue acting or pay the rent?’ So in 1990, when I was hired to do PR at Intiman, I thought, ‘I have arrived. This is it! This is my calling! This is where I am going to be for the rest of my life.’”
Fickes studied acting and directing at Syracuse University. “I realized I didn’t want the life of an actor or director,” he said. “I knew I was good, but I didn’t want it as much as my colleagues did. So halfway through college, I switched to PR.”
“You were an early bloomer,” Britton teased, as everyone chuckled.
Jackman never treaded the boards. She went from the University of Oregon into PR. “One day I was scanning the want ads and saw an ad for a marketing assistant at Portland Opera. I was like, ‘Hey, I like opera; that sounds like fun.’”
No turning back
None of the four have regrets, although there are wistful moments. Tucker admits that “In a perfect world, I would still like to act.”
Fickes actually tried to leave PR; he went back to school to become a therapist. ”But they pulled me back in,” he said. “Now, I can feel the contributions that I make. I can see the changes. I can see the growth. And it continues to challenge me.”
“I went into this profession at age 23, and it was everything I loved,” Jackman enthused. “I told my mother, ‘I can’t believe I get paid to be around artists and go to shows!’”
Britton said, “I have a great life; there are no complaints.”
But does she miss acting? She smiled. “Only every day.”
STARLA SMITH is a longtime Queen Anne resident. To suggest a Queen Anne/Magnolia resident to be featured in “Starla Speaks,” email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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