Sarah Penland, a production and project management graduate, is aiming for Broadway

When Sarah Penland made the decision to attend a graduate school in production and project management (PPM), she had specific criteria in mind. She knew she wanted to expand her skills and knowledge as much as possible. She also wanted to make sure she chose a program that would open doors for her and set her on the path she wanted – to become a production manager on Broadway.

The School of Design and Production’s PPM program ticked all those boxes for her and helped her get closer to her goal. After graduating from UNCSA, she will head to Broadway in August as an assistant production manager.

Despite the small nature of the industry during part of her graduate studies, Penland was able to gain quite a bit of experience, including working as a production manager at the Chautauqua Theater Company, as a Sherry Wagner-Henry Board Fellow with the US Institute for Theater Technology (USITT) Board of Trustees and Interning as Associate Production Manager at New York City’s Cathedral Church of Saint-Jean-le-Divin.

As she prepares for the debut stage, Penland reflects on her time in the PPM program, the skills she learned along the way, and the experiences that helped propel her into the next phase of his career.

Can you tell us why you decided to attend UNCSA for graduate school?

I did my undergrad in New York and worked for a cruise line for almost a decade. I made the decision to walk away from that and really wanted as many doors to open for me as possible. I knew an MFA program was the way to go.

When I made this transition, I applied to five production management schools: UNCSA, Florida State, Carnegie Mellon, Yale, and Boston University. I wasn’t sure at the time where I was going to finish.

It was winter 2019, every interview was in person, and UNCSA was the last school I visited. I really liked Eric Nottke (PPM program director), and the students in the program seemed happy. Eric and I had a few conversations beforehand and connected with him and the career he had. And I loved that the program focuses on production – not just in the sense of theatre, dance and opera – but there is also the project management component which makes it an incredibly versatile.

If you could say thank you to one person at UNCSA, who would it be? Why?

Eric Nottke – I see him as my greatest cheerleader. In the summer of 2020, I thought I was going to be a production manager at the Williamstown Theater Festival, where he had also worked, and that was going to be a huge professional milestone for me. That ultimately didn’t happen because of the pandemic.

I remember seeing the official announcement in the New York Times that the festival was cancelled. I was at my parents’ house and called Eric, and he really talked about where I was and the fears I had. He is a great champion of me and everyone in the program and I feel supported by him.

Penland on the set of “Spring Awakening” with his parents.

Can you tell us about your production management internship at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine?

I did not know until I was offered this internship that it is the largest cathedral in the world. It is a Gothic cathedral on New York’s Upper West Side, and it hosts liturgical events, Sunday services, concerts, conferences, and is also a venue for outdoor events like galas and fundraisers . It is also one of the homes of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at this time.

When I started working at the cathedral in the fall of 2021, nothing was happening in person – so one of the biggest parts of the job was live streaming. It comes with a certain level of production, requiring things to look and sound a certain way in video format.

I heard about the internship through the UNCSA Design & Production job fair in February 2021. I was in contact with a person named Brendan Boyd who eventually took over production management at Cathedral, and he called me in the fall to ask if I was interested.

And your association with the USITT Board of Trustees?

The Fellowship offers a non-voting seat on the USITT Board of Trustees, so whatever the Board does, I am a part of. A big thing that production management deals with is money and budgeting. When I worked for the Chautauqua Theater Company, which is part of a larger institution, I always heard of the board of directors when it came to making financial decisions…I knew theoretically how a board of directors worked. administration, but I had never attended a board meeting. .

So I applied for this hoping to get hands-on experience of what it looked like. And part of the fellowship is that they want young people and more diverse voices. It’s cool because even though I don’t vote, my views are considered a voice on a lot of different things.

What skills or tools do you expect to take with you from the PPM program?

My experience has been that there is flexibility with the school and the program to support students where they are and where they want to go.

My experience has been that there is flexibility with the school and the program to support students where they are and where they want to go.

Sarah Penland

I learned to manage money, finances and accounting in a very important way. Previously, I had worked as a stage manager, and that was where my undergraduate degree was. With production management, I had no idea what the whole timeline of a production was like, working with designers and stores and bringing something into the theater with a lot of different parts that went assemble.

In my first semester, we looked at timelines and deliverables and how to get the job done by having great communication with people. Eric Nottke will tell you: “Communication is our tool and our skill, and that’s what we sell. This is what you need to be good at when entering the job market.

There’s an idea that you have to be great at all this different software or all this very, very technical stuff. I think the theory and the mentality at UNCSA is that, yes, you have to know these things, but it’s ultimately about being able to communicate in and around these rooms.

by Corrine Luthy

Get the best news, performances, and stories from UNCSA alumni.

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