- Shelly Cohen, Company Manager
Making a Family Out of Strangers
When I was in college, my mentor, Robin Gray, taught me two key phrases that I still hold close to my heart:
Never Burn Any Bridges
The Worst That Someone Can Say Is No
My passion has always been working in entertainment and providing a source of joy and inspiration to others as theater has provided me. I’ve always known that one of my dreams was to travel across the world with shows. In 2013, I was given the opportunity to pack my bags and tour across the United States as the Assistant Company Manager with Sesame Street Live. Fast forward 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to truthfully and literally say I’m “Living the Dream” by touring across the world as a Company Manager for popular branded shows including Sesame Street Live, Paw Patrol Live and Trolls Live.
In other words, I can proudly say that I’ve been Elmo’s Manager!
Through this time of traveling across 49 states, 9 Canadian Provinces and 19 cities in China, the job responsibilities of a Company Manager can and will adapt at any moment. Working behind-the-scenes is such a unique and special role – not only are you the general management representative for your company who’s responsible for the overall operations, logistics, administration and financials of the tour, but you are also the go-to person for your team members. Your team looks to you to always be levelheaded, approachable, calm and trusting. Trust is such a key word in my life – it’s something that must be earned, never expected.
By building a connection with the various teams I’ve worked with, I’ve formed a family out of strangers.
Company Managers are the leaders who proactively take care of arranging everyone’s transportation & housing but are also responsible for coming up with Plans A, B and C when the group flight gets cancelled at 2:00 AM, bus call is at 8:00 AM and you need to communicate the new plan to all 35 people plus your vendors.
They are the leaders who handle all of your last-minute house seat/comp ticket requests but are also the venue’s prime contact when any and all problems arise.
In addition to the “traditional” job duties, I have been proud to include my passion of discovering and embracing local cultures by creating opportunities for our touring family to volunteer and donate to local communities. This is especially important on international tours. Having the honor of touring across China for 7 months, we had the privilege of traveling across 19 cities and organized numerous group trips including volunteering to work with Giant Pandas, setting up a Q&A at a local English-speaking school, walking across the Great Wall of China and visiting the Terracotta Warriors. At the same time, we needed to ensure we properly celebrated important American holidays including Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah and of course, countless birthdays.
Being in a foreign country can already be a challenge where you constantly have to change/adapt to new rules in a constantly evolving environment (in addition to not knowing the local language) but your team will look to you for support and guidance. Whether that’s a challenge they’re facing at work or if they’re feeling homesick and unable to talk to their family due to VPN issues, it’s important for Company Managers to be a guiding force that can always inspire and reassure. While we all tried delicious local foods throughout our time, I can proudly say that we were able to find and surprise our team with a traditional western Thanksgiving and Christmas morning meal – the hugs and smiles on their faces was all I needed to know that the smallest of gestures can go a long way.
In terms of guidance and advice for young women looking to enter any behind-the-scenes field, a key piece of advice I want to share is “the worst that someone can say is no”.
Starting out as a Stage Manager, I was accepted to a Company Management internship at the prestigious Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. Working alongside leaders in the industry, under the direction of Michael Kahn and Chris Jennings, I was able to experience and learn from so many incredible opportunities and experiences. You’ll always hear me say: “Every experience is a learning experience”.
By simply asking other departments if I could be of service and help with their special projects, I had the opportunity to:
Work alongside the United States Supreme Court police as a Key Talent Wrangler for United States Supreme Court Justices Alito, Breyer and Ginsburg.
Be the prime contact for Mr. Jerry Stiller, Mr. Stacy Keach and Dame Siân Phillips.
Proactively take on the task of successfully applying for international visas to bring over revolutionary shows from around the world to DC audiences.
To this day, that mindset still remains true. Over the past few months, I’ve had the honor of working alongside my mentor and friend, Anna Robb, as the Company Manager for TheatreArtLife, a global live entertainment media site. Being inspired by her dedication & mission and simply taking a risk of reaching out; not only have I been given the gift of giving back to the global live entertainment community by connecting individuals and sharing stories from around the world but I’ve been welcomed to a new family of entertainment professionals.
Just never forget the amazing power of simply asking the question. You’ll never know when you’ll get the yes that changes your life.