Social Buttons

Monday, October 1, 2018

There's 30something about Mary Reilly

By David Hsieh

(From left) Joseph V. Melillo, Mary Reilly, and Pina Bausch in 2001 for Masurca Fogo 

“For three decades, Mary Reilly has been BAM’s secret weapon. Working shoulder to shoulder with her is a pleasure as she creatively, imaginatively, and perceptively structures support mechanisms for the artists that I have curated for our main stages and ancillary programs. A vast range of sensitivities balanced by the most joyous humanity guarantees that each individual artist feels tremendous support before and during their work here and as they depart for home or other professional obligations. We are a respected cultural institution because of Mary’s professional contribution.” —Joseph V. Melillo, Executive Producer of BAM

On October 3, 1988, Mary Reilly started the job as BAM’s company manager. She was from Wisconsin, had an English major, trained in Stanislavski theater, and had worked in several theater companies in New York. She had prematurely silver hair and a voice that could soothe a crying baby. She had heard about BAM but had never visited. She had been told the place would be presenting works by the likes of Peter Sellars, Les Arts Florissants, and Ingmar Bergman and wanted to be part of it.

Thirty years later, she has worked with these artists and others like Fiona Shaw, Jeremy Irons, Isabelle Huppert, Pina Bausch, Cate Blanchett, and Ralph Fiennes. She still has that full silver hair and that voice. She is still at the job that she more or less invented at BAM. It’s now called Artist Services, of which she is the director. Over this period, BAM has become a world-class performance arts destination. The well-honed mechanism she created to take care of artists is one of the key elements of that status, making artists, new and returning, feel right at home at BAM and allowing them to deliver the best performances without worries.

On the eve of her 30th anniversary, Mary Reilly talks about her continuous passion and pride for her job and BAM.

Q: How did you get the job?

Mary Reilly: Stephen Willems, a visiting director whom I met and assisted in college, recommended me to Diane Malecki, who was a producer at BAM. Theatre was my first love in the arts and I just wanted to work with people who put on shows. I studied acting and directing but always wanted to be a part of the larger presenting/producing picture. And I wanted to be part of a company, to belong to a cultural institution and not just work on one play at a time and/or tour and then move on. BAM sounded perfect.

Q: Did you know how to do it at the beginning?

MR: No one could have all the experience they have in the job when you take it. You’re getting an education while you’re working. That is certainly true when you work at BAM. It was a very exciting time, as it still is. Harvey and Joe were mounting shows so quickly and we were all running alongside the creative forces to manage the BAM experience. There was work to be done and people just stepped up to it. Coming from a large family I was familiar to the efforts involved in organizing folks. I think I naturally had an understanding of what people needed and how to take care of them so I just extended it. I was proving myself and learning and growing at the same time. All very exciting.

Q: How did the job evolve over the years?

MR: The job title was company manager at the beginning. It was soon recognized that it needs to be a staff position, not seasonal. Because the duties of the job were expanding and I was working in a larger sphere, taking on company management tasks but also more institutional forms that had a wider range including but not limited to more hospitality and entertaining and working with all the departments to service their requests and needs form various artists and companies. So it naturally had to become a larger department and became Artist Services. We liaise between the artists/companies and the whole institution. It’s the coordination of the life of the visiting artists and taking care of both their human and professional needs. For our foreign artists, it always starts with Immigration! And then we tackle the travel, housing, local transportation, per diem, and that always necessary but unplanned medical emergency.

Fiona Shaw (left) and Mary Reilly in 2011 for John Gabriel Borkman 

Q: How is the BAM model unique?

MR: It is unique in the way that Harvey and Joe placed a priority on developing key relationships with artists and their management over the years and allowed for a department to be created to tend to these needs. It’s almost like “talent relations” in the commercial world. But I like to think we do so with an investment in a person or company whereupon they feel their contribution to BAM can be the start of a professional relationship vs. just “appearing” at BAM.

Q: How would you describe the essence of your job?

MR: I see my job here and that of my department as one that ensures all logistical needs of an artist or company are met with ease, efficiency and warmth. Whether you’re a new or an established artist, appearing on any one of our stages is a huge deal and one that can come with great anxiety no matter how seasoned you are. Having the contractual logistics surrounding an artist in place helps to alleviate that pressure so that their focus can be wholly dedicated to giving the performance they desire.

Q: What’s your secret of being so good at it?

MR: I do love it and it is thrilling and always surprising. I don’t think I have ever been bored. It’s a privilege to be able to have this role. I have worked with an amazing array of Artist Services representatives over the years. In the end, I’m a fan of these artists and their work. And my goodness, I’ve been privileged to have seen such tremendous work over the years I feel blushed with riches of memory. I also feel I’m contributing and my contribution is unique and recognized—that is a key factor working at BAM. One should feel the value of their contribution. Fortunately I have been made to feel that way over the years and am grateful for that.

Q: It’s service work. Do you ever get tired or stressed?

MR: When that happens, one of the best things to do is to go to a show. I’ll go to a show and feel: this is what it’s all about. And then I count the actors on stage and make sure I see the right amount of artists that matches hotel rooming list – ha ! My inspiration comes from the work.

(From left) Mary Reilly, Derek Jacobi, and Gina McKee in 2011 for King Lear.

Q: You don’t work alone. How do you motivate your team?

MR: They’re self-motivated. They’re driven individuals and they are great! You gain a lot of strength when you do your job well. I want them to know the core of the job but I want them to do it individually. They’re solving it within their skillsets and personality. I always make sure we can take time to laugh at obstacles or oddities that occur. And we put a huge emphasis on strong coffee.

Q: You have personal contact with many great artists. Do you get star struck? How do you maintain that professional distance?

MR: There should always be a healthy level of star struck, otherwise it becomes too routine. The great thing is they’re here to work and so am I.

Q: What are you most proud of from these 30 years?

MR: I can be proud of my continuous enthusiasm. I am always looking forward to the new season and new artists. At the beginning I thought I was going to do this for a few years. But then Harvey or Joe would reveal the next season, present the next artist, and I was stuck. I had to stay and be a part of it.

David Hsieh is a publicity manager at BAM.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.