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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Behind the Scenes: Mary Reilly, Director of Artist Services

Get acquainted with some of the people who make things work at BAM. Mary Reilly is BAM’s director of Artist Services, interviewed by Sandy Sawotka, BAM’s director of publicity.*
Juliette Binoche with Mary Reilly, Director of Artist Services. Photo by Danielle Dybiec.

Q: As BAM’s longtime director of Artist Services, your work entails a range of diverse responsibilities. Tell us about them.
A: Artist Services facilitates the logistics involved with getting artists and companies to BAM. And it always starts with a visa! Then we’re on to planes, trains, hotel rooms, apartment searches, local transportation, company dinners, backstage toasts, opening night gifts, and a few emergency room visits—sometimes on the same day. Our main goal is to remove the daily obstacles that hinder artists from concentrating fully on their performances. Each artist requires a different level of support. An Icelandic actor in New York for the first time might require more than a New York-based dancer from Mark Morris Dance Group. When a company arrives from afar, we might organize a special outing. Last year, dance troupe Pamodzi from Zambia was here as part of DanceAfrica. None of the dancers had ever been to the US, so we arranged for a Big Apple Manhattan bus tour and the company loved it! We source and make medical appointments for artists who are in need of anything from an acupuncture tune-up to the sudden need for physical therapy or a B12 shot at midnight. There have been emergency root canals and even one burst gallbladder in my time here. We’ve amassed a list of top therapists in all these disciplines and try to make everyone feel taken care of during their BAM stay—whether it be a brief few days, a week, or in some wonderful cases, months, as with performers in The Bridge Project.

Q: How might a typical day go for you and your staff?
A: Ah, how we all wish for the typical. First we check the show reports from the night before to see if any notes exist for our department, flagging any potential problems. Then we begin tackling the myriad details necessary to get ready for the next show. It can also depend on which season we’re currently in: the Next Wave Festival or the Spring Season. The Festival has a furious pace as up to 16 different companies arrive and depart within 12 weeks. Artist Services is a staff of four including myself—a manager and two representatives who each are assigned certain shows per season. Our work is organized by who needs what first that day. With live performers, there is always the risk of injury or illness and urgent care trumps all. Getting everyone on stage is the top priority. We also manage more than 6,000 hotel nights per year. There is always a rooming list being tweaked and travel to be booked. Each rep begins by tracking her respective shows, returning calls, and processing ticket orders, backstage lists, and greenroom setups. Sometimes an artist may need child care at the hotel or want to know studios for a yoga or Pilates class. We do lots of recommending, and of course no day is complete without ordering champagne for our backstage toasts! It truly never gets dull around here.

Q: How far in advance of an engagement do you need to work on procuring artist visas?
A: About six months out. As everyone in the arts well knows, the immigration process post-9/11 requires multiple new security checks even after the work visa has been issued by USCIS (United States Citizen and Information Services). Each foreign consulate or US embassy needs ample time to run these checks. Thankfully BAM programs its engagements well in advance. We are on a pretty good roll with this international process.

Q: When an artist is visiting New York City for the first time, what kinds of free-time activities interest them? What do they want to see/do?
A: Shopping, late night dining, and imbibing in the city’s many great bars and cafés. I think Mayor Bloomberg would be very pleased to know BAM artists are doing their part to boost our local economy by spending their per diems in New York.

Q: Have they become more interested in Brooklyn over the past few years?

A: Oh, yes. The artists and companies love Brooklyn. Smith Street is a huge hit! Many of our companies stay at the Brooklyn Marriott and after they drop their bags they’re off and running down Montague Street to take in the Manhattan skyline from the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights. Many venture right over the Brooklyn Bridge to walk through their jet lag. And post-show, we have so many wonderful cafés and bars near BAM to continue the celebration. In Manhattan, a trip to MoMA and music in Harlem lead the list.

Q: I suspect you’ve been sent some thank-you gifts from artists. Could you mention a memorable or unique one?
A: I’ll never forget a spectacular arrangement of flowers I was fortunate to receive. They were from Ralph Fiennes who had appeared at BAM for one month playing both Richard II and Coriolanus. They were a sumptuous bundle of longstem pink orchids elegantly wrapped in their own vines and were breathtakingly beautiful. I was the envy of many BAM coworkers that season.

*This interview originally appeared in the January 2011 BAMbill.

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