This past week, we were honored to have Bernie Griffin, Managing Director at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater, join us in the Skilljar offices for a fireside chat and for our ongoing Chats with Interesting People Series (CHIPS).
Bernie is a longtime advocate and patron of the Arts, having held leadership roles at the National Actors Theatre in New York City, the Laguna Playhouse in Los Angeles, the Seattle Symphony, and currently, at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, the nation’s leading musical theater company. She established the first-ever Development Department at The 5th Avenue Theatre and in her tenure the organization has grown from a $10 million to a $25 million organization. Bernie’s team is responsible for all fundraising, marketing, finance, information services and facility operations of the theater as well as oversight of all activities related to the Board of Directors.
Read on for some of Bernie’s thoughts about the importance of the Arts and how she engages with the local Seattle community.
You’ve worked in the Arts industry in both New York and Los Angeles, and now in Seattle. What would you say is different about the theater scene here in Seattle?
I was actually born and raised in Walla Walla, a few hours outside of Seattle, so when the opportunity arose to come back, I couldn’t have been more excited. In my experience, Los Angeles is a movie town and it is very celebrity-driven. In contrast, I consider Seattle to be one of the top three theater cities (alongside New York and Chicago). We have very rich arts and culture community here and I’ve found that performances are much more focused on the art, rather than the celebrity. The art in Seattle is truly authentic. I recently went to a performance of local actors reading poetry and the venue was absolutely packed. This is not an event that would have been successful in LA.
With so many options for entertainment these days, how do you encourage people to go to the theater?
It’s admittedly a tougher sell than it was 15 years ago when I started at The 5th. It used to be that Friday night was the start of the weekend and people were clamoring for shows. Now, people tend to want to go home after work. That said, what theater really brings to the table is the live experience. Unlike a movie, or even a concert to some extent, there’s something about a live performance that cannot be replicated – it’s such a visceral cultural experience and I think that remains the draw for our performances.
There is a lot of talk in Seattle about gender equality, especially in the technology sector. What is the gender balance like in the theater industry?
Perhaps unlike tech, the Arts & Culture industry often leads the way in terms of making deliberate and authentic decisions regarding equity, inclusion, and diversity. Casting decisions are often made with significant forethought and Seattle’s arts leadership is actually well-represented from a gender perspective. All of that said, gender equity shouldn’t be something we need to talk about – it should be inherent in our work.
The 5th is very involved in the local Seattle community. Why is that important to you?
My role at The 5th is not just about selling tickets, it’s about being a vital member of our community. We partner with local schools across the county with education and engagement programs, and through our efforts, we bring musical theater to 75,000 kids across the state of Washington. We want to show kids the power of musical theater – how it can open minds, show you different worlds, provide inspiration and hope, and make our world just a little bit gentler of a place. Theater is about learning to communicate with one another and changing hearts and minds and that’s why I see it as a critical initiative to expose as many people as possible to the stage.
Plays or musicals?
Best book you’ve read in the past year?
Dogs or cats?
Favorite vacation spot?
It’s hard to choose, but I loved a trip I took to the Oregon Coast in January. There’s also an artist colony in Laguna Beach that I’ve always found inspiring.
Interested in joining the Skilljar team? Check out our available opportunities below!