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TBA Online: News & Features: October 2017

At SF Playhouse, A Patron Services Manager Excited About Building Relationships

Wednesday, October 18, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: TBA Staff
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by Nina Solomita


Tiiu Rebane loves her job as patron services manager for the San Francisco Playhouse. And why wouldn’t she? She created it.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Rebane joined the company as box office manager. Having had extensive experience in all aspects of theater administration, she was able to identify several coordination and communication issues could be handled more efficiently - from managing four part-time house managers and a part-time concessions manager to bridging communication gaps between the departments. Rebane saw a need that she could fill and came up with a new job description.

“I researched other theater company titles and thought Patron Services sounded the most appropriate.”

Tiiu Rebane. Photo by Steven Gotz.

Rebane took her proposal to the company founders, Susi Damilano and Bill English, and, in keeping with the company’s principles of collaboration, they listened to her idea and changed both her job description and her duties. She says that the alignment between her values and those of SF Playhouse is another reason why she loves her job.

“We’re all in it together, and it does take a village. In our mission statement, we call this space an ‘empathy gym, a place to share stories and nurture compassion,’ and, from the top down, it really is a compassionate place. Everybody goes for that and tries to uphold that statement.” Rebane explains that the company plays are chosen with the following questions in mind. “How does this challenge a belief, create a new way of thinking, or open somebody’s eyes to a different perception of humanity that might translate to their lives and give them an empathy boost?” SF Playhouse’s current offering, Barbecue, deals humorously with presumptions about race, poverty, and the American family.

So, what does a patron services manager do?

Rebane describes her responsibilities enthusiastically. “I oversee all ticketing operations as well as all of the front-of-house operations, so that when a patron walks in the door, I’m in charge of everything except what happens on the stage and backstage.” The goal is to make this night in the theater special and one that the audience member will want to repeat.

“It’s relationship-building, making sure they have a great experience from picking up their ticket, to getting a drink at the bar, to enjoying the show in a comfortable seat, to having someone say, ‘goodbye and thank you for coming.’ We want to get that patron to come back through the door the second time. Everyone will do something once, but how do you develop a relationship to actually turn them into a subscriber, a donor, a mouthpiece for your company?”

In an expensive city where people can easily access a variety of entertainment in the comfort of their homes, this presents quite a challenge. “In the onstage speech I give before performances, I welcome the audience into their temporary two-hour home and thank them for coming into a big, dark room with a bunch of strangers, and getting out from under the little glowing screen to have an experience with other people.” Rebane also trains company staff to present the speech in a warm, welcoming manner.

 The effort to cultivate new patrons is constant. “To continue to build audience, I’m always liaising with [the] marketing [department] to figure out new ways to get people in and with [the] development [department] to figure out what exciting new perks we can offer. I’ve developed warm personal relationships with subscribers, some of whom I see six times a year; the theater has become a part of their lives.”

Rebane has been involved in theatre since high school. “I stuck with it because it seemed to be the only thing that made sense.” As an actor-singer, she spent ten years in New York doing the rounds of auditioning and performing. (Now, on occasion, she exercises her performance skills as an understudy for the company.) Among what she calls her “survival jobs” were ticketing, box office, concessions and front-of-house management at companies like the Roundabout Theatre Company. All these experiences provided the foundation and knowledge for her current role.

Her advice to those who want to do what she does is: “Go to all the theater you can; work in all the theater you can; make connections; find mentors; talk to people; join groups.” Rebane is a member of “Yeah, I Said Feminist,” an online theatre salon for women in the Bay Area theatre scene. She is very willing to talk to people and answer questions. “Nobody goes to school to learn how to do this. The more you self-educate the better.”

Nina Solomita is a freelance writer and playwright.