Thank you to Vittoria Allen of CYT San Diego for contributing the following story & interview.
As CYT approaches it’s 35th Anniversary, I have spent countless hours going through old photos and videos, collecting pieces of our history that have woven together a beautiful story of friendship and family through the arts. It is so fun to see all these great #tbt photos, but also encouraging and inspiring to see so many CYT Alumni that have gone on to do incredible things in the world of theater arts.
One of my personal friends, Owen Spruill, has been basically living the dream in Paris. (Ok, I’m a little bias, but I can’t be the only one who would drop everything to live abroad!) If you have been following the Tony Nominations for 2015, you may have noticed a new show, An American in Paris, making headlines with 12 nominations! Owen has been working on An American in Paris IN PARIS! I thought this would be a great opportunity to take the CYT nation on a dive into his world and celebrate how one of our own is making waves in the theater industry.
Owen, what is your current job title and what are your responsibilities?
I work at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, France. My job title is English Press and Communications.
The work I do here is to focus on building a stronger brand for the theatre in the English media outlets – The New York Times, The Guardian, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, etc. I pitch stories about specific musicals we do here, artists we are working with or the theatre in general to the journalists and we work on finding a story that sees fit. I then set up interviews, and deliver photography or media that can be used for the news piece.
Other work I do is developing social media content for the theatre and the musicals we do here. I also reach out to potential corporate partners to find a good way they can be incorporated in the work we do at the theatre; for example partnerships with Uber, Google or Twitter.
How did you get this job? / What inspired you to move to Paris?
This was actually a funny story. I had read about the Châtelet in the past. I have always loved Paris. I studied abroad here in 2009 and wanted to live and work here longer. I was ready for a change from NYC and reached out to them, via Facebook! I was lucky enough to get a response. They saw on my resume that I had worked with the American press representatives in the past and since they were going to premiere An American in Paris [on Broadway] (this past fall), a few phone calls later, and voilà, I’ve been working here since last spring!
What was your job while living in New York?
I studied Producing and Management at Marymount Manhattan, along with Communications and French as my minor. I want to produce and work in the development for the arts. Towards the end of college, I worked with Broadway producers and in press offices. I chose to work in a press office because they had the opportunity to work with many different clients. Those clients are the ones that produce Broadway. Since graduating, I have worked many jobs. I researched and developed social media for specific Broadway shows, I negotiated contracts for touring venues to sell merchandise, I worked at Disney Theatricals in their press office and, most recently, was an assistant to a Broadway producer.
What is the biggest different from working in the theater industry in NY vs. Paris?
A journalist I know wrote a great article that talks about the Parisian and NYC theatre. It is a very in-depth analysis on the theatre industry in both cities.
Regarding musicals in France, it is difficult to say. There are tons of shows that come through Paris – Cats, Beauty and the Beast, Flashdance… But these shows are experienced differently than the way we experience a Broadway musical. They are cute and fun, but there isn’t a strong impact on the audiences here.
Working at a historical music house at the Théâtre du Châtelet, where they present everything that surrounds music – dance, opera, concerts, musical theatre, etc., the American musicals are respected a bit more. Instead of having a 15 to 19-piece orchestra, there is a 25 to 30-piece orchestra, for example. The idea came in 2006 when our Executive Director came and introduced classic American musicals to be treated as operas – Big and lavish, like they originally were during the Golden Age of Musicals. Possibly the way Gershwin would want them to sound! Since then, they have presented multiple Sondheim, Gershwin, Bernstein, Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, and many more! These aren’t new names to the French, except Sondheim, but they weren’t familiar with their musical theatre works. Presenting these amazing shows in a grandiose way has really helped the French appreciate the history and passion that we have for musicals in America.
What has been your favorite part about working abroad?
I think one my favorite things to do during the workweek is get out of my office every day for about an hour to an hour and a half and just relax. It’s the culture here to close up shop and get out of the office for an hour or so every day. I like to get a sandwich and go sit and read in a park or by the Seine. I have time to go to a museum or go to my neighborhood to have lunch with a friend. It is nice and keeps you calm, but energized to finish the rest of the day at work!
Besides that, I love being in the city with so many great things: so many museums, concerts, parks, restaurants…I absolutely love the food. I go to the farmers market every Saturday and pick up fresh fruit and vegetables, local meats and cheeses. drink amazing wine and of course, THE BREAD! It’s too good to pass up. It’s too hard to not pass up a warm croissant or pain au chocolat every morning on the way to work.
What would you say is the greatest thing you have learned since working / living abroad?
When I lived in NYC, after graduating college, I thought I had to focus focus focus on “making it,” getting “that” job or that position to truly feel that I have accomplished all the hard work I put in. Don’t get me wrong, I am still focused on doing what I am passionate about, but over time, when all you have is work and career on your mind, you forget about what else goes on in life. The French do it right, though some/many Americans might not think so. I work normal work hours, 10AM-7PM, I have my weekends off and I go out of town for the holiday weekends. What I appreciate most, and what I have finally come to realize, is that you must take time for yourself. I have changed the way I utilize my day. I work hard during my workweek, but I also take time for myself and take advantage of the experiences I am having.
At work, I have grown to appreciate the artists who were a part of the creation of what American Musicals are today. When you sit back and listen an 18-minute symphonic poem by Gershwin, you find true appreciation for what the artists of our country have done; what they have created for the basis of musical theatre. During my personal time it’s that mixture of being in a country that appreciates the arts, culture, food, good conversation and much more.
Explain what it was like bringing An American to Paris to Broadway!
I have had the coolest year of not only moving to Paris, but also continuing to work on a Broadway show, IN Paris! An American in Paris made its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet this past November. It was the first time a show was premiered outside of the States or in England before going to Broadway. I am not sure if it was the opportunity to work with old colleagues on a show in Paris, the sense of family everyone created or the show itself. It was probably all of it. I feel so completely blessed to be able to work on it. An American in Paris is a new musical that has been adapted from the movie starring Gene Kelly. It also features the music of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, and is directed by one of the kings of the ballet world, Christopher Wheeldon. He is a genius! The show has all the formality of a classic American musical, but what makes it so special and contemporary, to me, is the way Christopher Wheeldon incorporates his beautiful choreography into this show. You leave the show in love with choreography that truly tells the story along with the Gershwin classics leading the way. Along with that, you have the incredible the sets, costumes, lights, an amazing ensemble with two leading actors/dancers (also from the dancing world) that really inspires you. It made me realize why I love working in this industry so much.
When the show opened on Broadway in April, I had such an “aha” moment. American in Paris is playing at the Palace Theatre, the same theatre I saw my first show on Broadway, Aida. It was a very special night. Now, the show is nominated for 12 Tony Awards. Only one other Broadway show is competing with that many nominations this year. Fingers crossed.
Who is your favorite person you’ve been able to “rub elbows” with? Name drop!
Ha. I got coffee for Susan Sarandon once!
But working in the theatre in NYC and it being such a small industry, you make friends from all over the place. I think my favorite person to “rub elbows” with was probably in 2010 when Eddie Redmayne won the Tony Award for Red. I picked him up after his acceptance speech with a colleague and we drove over to the pressroom (it was in a completely different building from Radio City Music Hall). He was in complete shock that he just won his award and didn’t know what to do. So, of course, we blasted rap in the car ride over.
I guess a more simple one would be Daniel Radcliff accidently stepping on my foot, while walking down the red carpet at The Tony Awards, and then pulling me aside 15 minutes later to apologize. We hugged it out.
How has CYT played a role in your current career?
CYT is probably the sole reason I have pursued a career in the arts. I have always had a hard time finding the “right place” for me, hence the need to go to Paris! It was CYT that helped change that. CYT was the reason I continued to do theatre when I moved to Virginia, which led me to NYC. I know that my roots are in CYT and without it, I couldn’t name one other career I could be doing right now.
Ok, maybe I would be a chef. I love food and I love to cook. I still may go to culinary school one day. Why not!?
What’s your favorite CYT memory?
I think my favorite CYT memory was my final year in CYT. I moved to Virginia in 2004 with my family where I finished my last two years of high school. In my last year of CYT, I traveled San Diego to do the shows I wanted to be a part of; The Little Mermaid in NCI, Pocahontas in SC and Aladdin in SDC – My home area. That was also the year I won the screwball award for every show! It was the year I made my some of my best friends. Jason Russell led a boy’s bible study. There was so many of us hanging out almost every day, goofing off, figuring out how to grow up during a time with so many changes. Trust me, it was very hard to have to let it all go and move to the opposite side of the country. But I have this group of friends I know will be a part of my life no matter where we go or what we do. I think, like any person in CYT, our favorite memories are the ones we have had with our family and friends.
What piece of advice would you give to someone aspiring to work in the same field?
If you are either aspiring to be on stage or in the background of it all, then do it. Don’t think that because Broadway puts a standard of work out there, it doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for you. Even go beyond the Great White Way. Personally, I know that Broadway will ALWAYS be there. There will always be something for me to do there. As I have recently decided to make a change and dive into another culture to see the way they appreciate the arts. It has been one of the best and coolest decisions I have made in my career, and life! It’s the most fascinating thing to see how dance, opera, symphonies, museums and so much more all contribute to our society in such powerful ways. Learn your field (front and back) and then go get it. It’s there for you.
You can catch a preview of An American in Paris here.
We are so proud of you Owen!