Student Profile: Art of Management
Suzanne Appel SOM/Drama '11
Co-chair, Internship Fund
Post-SOM position: managing director, Cutting Ball Theater
I'm not your average MBA student. I'm also not your average drama student. I always wanted to work in the arts, but I've also been interested in economic development and have a real skill with fundraising. Before coming to Yale I worked at the Dance Theater Workshop, where I was the director of individual giving. I loved being involved in an organization that did so much important work in the performing arts world. But it was struggling on the financial side, and I saw that if I really wanted to be an asset to such an organization, I needed strong business skills.
There aren't a lot of people in theater with an MBA, so it was very helpful to learn about all the Yale SOM alumni who have gone into the arts. Todd Haimes, the artistic director of Roundabout Theatre is one example. These alumni have been pioneers in building sustainable non-profit arts organizations. Too many nonprofit organizations fail because the people running them don't have the necessary financial skills. Yale has by far the strongest joint degree program in this field—an MFA in theater management and a traditional MBA—so when I got in, enrolling here was an easy decision.
The courses I've take at Yale SOM have been crucial to building the kinds of skills I need to make a real difference at a performing arts organization. I built demand curves and created dynamic pricing models, while learning the keys to negotiating contracts from faculty like Daylian Cain. I refer to courses I've completed just about every day, and I can see, even as I'm just starting out on this phase of my career, how I'm going to be able to really help arts organizations navigate through some very tough and uncertain times.
One of the great things about coming to Yale is that you're able to really put your skills to work. For the past year, I've produced the No Boundaries series at Yale Repertory Theatre. I did just about everything: I negotiated contracts with the artists; I built a budget and then tracked spending; I created and executed the marketing campaign; and I hired and managed a team to help me carry all of this out. I should note something about the SOM community. Even if my classmates don't understand the theater and how it works, they're super-supportive. At each performance, 20 of my classmates would show up, often with flowers. People have a wide variety of passions at SOM. We're all proud to support each other's visions.
One of the best things about Yale is that people from different schools interact with each other. A lot of my colleagues from the theater management program come over to SOM to take courses. And quite a few of my fellow SOMers take courses at the School of Drama. There's a playwriting course taught by Paula Vogel that is particularly popular. It's not just because it's interesting or fun. Students at SOM understand the value of approaching problems from different viewpoints. It's central to the curriculum. In a playwriting course, you might learn how to structure ideas, and more importantly, how to tell a story. We actually talked about this in one of our leadership development classes. Leadership is all about bringing people along with you, in creating a vision that others find compelling. Inspiring leaders are often great storytellers. This is something that's not often taught in a traditional business course. But here at Yale, it's something we all touch on, whether formally or just through conversations with students, faculty, or alumni. We focus on the totality of being a leader.
Interviewed on February 15, 2011.