Go Deeper

How to Manage a Benefit or Someone Get Sarah Chandler an iPhone

Posted June 14th, 2010

“I think me and Nichole were at a bar or something, and she asked me if I would manage this event for her. I was like, ‘Yeah, sounds great! Let’s plan a party!’ Lo and behold, it’s a lot more work than getting hot dogs and buns.”

Little did Sarah Chandler know, she would now be working on her second benefit with Nichole Canuso Dance Company (NCDC), the
2nd Annual NCDC Benefit Cabaret

which will be put on at Triumph Brewing Co. at 6:30 PM on next Thursday, June 17th.

Sarah forged her relationship with Nichole through her work with Pig Iron Theater Company, who persuaded her to move from NYC where she was working with The Public Theater to manage their international tour of Hell Meets Henry Halfway. She stayed, and now lives in South Philly.

“Lists, lists, lists,” Sarah says of how she stays organized. She writes lists of goals for the company on notebooks and Google Calendar, and even has one to-do inked on her wrist: “The exponent of breath,” an Emily Dickinson quote “that reminds me to love other people.”

Sarah originally followed in the footsteps of her two parents, who work for non-profits that help physically and mentally challenged people live independently, by studying sociology at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, where she grew up. Following the encouragement of a high school English teacher to follow her heart and pursue theater, she then went on to get an MFA in Theater from Virginia Tech, where she discovered her knack for production.

“I don’t have enough confidence for acting; right before a show I get really stressed out,” insists Sarah. “Even as a manager I feel that level of stress, but I’m not in the spotlight. It’s easier to sneak around in black clothes.”

Who will win the benefit raffle’s grand prize? Click more

Her stress is understandable is you consider that this year Sarah and the “awesome, talented, connected” planning committee she manages began planning the benefit cabaret for NCDC back in October. What began as sporadic meetings has, as the party approaches, become a 40 hr/wk job for Sarah, even though “I’m not making a living doing this. There are lots of other things I do to make a living which need focus and time too.” She can hardly be accused of a lack of focus, though. Last week, on top of planning the benefit, she was rehearsing TAKES, NCDC’s piece for the Live Arts Festival.

She rolls her eyes in mock-distress as she recounts all of the volunteer scheduling that needs to be confirmed and signs for the auction packages that need to be made before the event. The last thing she’s going to do to prepare is “probably smoke a cigarette. But I don’t want to promote tobacco use.”

Putting together a benefit like this comes down the delicate balance between making sure that it’s successful enough to make money for the company, but also throwing a kick-ass party that people want to come to. This is where Sarah’s sociology degree comes in.

“I’m a very maternal person,” she explains. “I get a thrill out of being able to offer as much support as I can to help the artist make the best piece they can make.” (Or in this case, to help said artist make some money so that they can make the best piece they can make.) That means getting a room full of 10 artists, who inevitably all come with different emotions and ideas about their work, to effectively work towards one artistic goal. Sarah has to be able to read people in order figure out how to make them hear one another. Call her The Artist Whisperer.

In Philly, she says, this can be hard to achieve, simply because this city’s artists tend to over-commit themselves. “It says something about the community here that people are willing to work and have this desire to produce.” It also means that just getting 10 people in the same room can be difficult.

As far as the party side of the event, Sarah says that fun was always #1 for Nichole. “We don’t expect everybody to just come and throw money at us. We expect them to come, play Baggo, spend a dollar guessing how many jelly beans are in a jar, and get tipsy . . . or bloated from drinking gingerale.” The cabaret acts, including NCDC and Miss Martha Graham Cracker, among others, will certainly make achieving the ‘fun’ goal easier. “It’s gonna get a little dirty,” says Sarah. Convincing artists to perform for free wasn’t as tough as you might image.

“Philly has a lot of good karma,” explains Sarah. “I’ve operated a lot on that.”

Besides NCDC, she’s most excited to see The Mural and the Mint perform a long-awaited reprise of their “Off the Grid Festival” performance, and to find out who will win the glass blowing lesson and handmade glass piece from Carmichael Jonez, and the grand prize raffle, which includes two nights in NYC, dinner at a steakhouse, theater tickets, and body work by a chiropractor. For obvious reasons, she won’t be entering, but has her fingers crossed for her “man-friend.”

On the night of the benefit, look for Sarah “probably wearing black even though I’m not in stage manager mode,” and “walking very quickly everywhere I go.” That is, if you can spot her. When she worked for Pig Iron, a generous benefactor once donated a car so that she could drive around the city and get all her errands done. Now that it’s T minus one week until the benefit, someone get Sarah an iPhone.

Click here to purchase tickets to the benefit.

–Ellen Freeman

Photo by Ellen Freeman, event photos courtesy of Nichole Canuso Dance Company.