Seth Laidlaw participates in TN Inspire! at the TLCC2018 Conference

Week in the Life of Program Manager Seth Laidlaw

Tue, Feb 26, 2019

Written by: Kayla Washko

As program manager for the Arts Education Department at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Seth Laidlaw leads an exciting—but hectic—schedule.  With only a small team, the Arts Education Department manages more than 4,000 sessions of arts-related programming that reach nearly 20,000 participants per year, ranging from in-classroom experiences with teaching artists to master classes, post-show talkbacks, and everything in-between.

Laidlaw’s work begins when the roster of shows for the upcoming season is announced in late spring. Popular series like PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Dance Council, Citizens Bank Children’s Theater, and EQT Bridge Theater provide the basic structure for which to build his “wish list” of activities. Laidlaw jumps right in by identifying partnerships and programs his team want to continue in the coming season and putting early requests into tours.

“There are so many different players in this type of work,” Laidlaw explains. “My first step is to sit down and talk to the tours to see how long they’re in town, what’s possible with the artists and what makes sense for them to do. Then I think about which local partners would benefit from these opportunities.”

While these early conversations set the season into motion, planning is fluid. As schedules change or new shows drop in to fill dark nights in our theaters, Laidlaw adapts and brainstorms new ideas for collaboration.

Once the season starts, Laidlaw continues to orchestrate programming behind-the-scenes, but he also takes on a more public-facing role. When touring companies and artists arrive to the city, Laidlaw is often their first point of contact. In addition to making sure their scheduled appearances run smoothly, Laidlaw acts as a welcoming ambassador, giving them recommendations about dining, shopping, and recreational activities in the area.

No two weeks are truly alike, but Laidlaw thrives on the variation. To provide a fuller picture of his role at the Trust, here’s a breakdown of Laidlaw’s activities during the week of February 18.

Monday, February 18
Planning Day

With a busy schedule ahead, Laidlaw starts his week with follow-ups to tours and schools to confirm planned activities.  He brainstorms questions for two pre-show talks that he will moderate with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, on stage at the Benedum Center through March 3.

Tuesday, February 19
Early Childhood Workshop with the cast of Flight School the Musical

Laidlaw meets Flight School The Musical cast members at Small World Early Learning and Development Center in Downtown Pittsburgh.  As part of an ongoing partnership between the Trust and PNC Grow Up Great, the kids have already participated in four learning sessions with teaching artists and gone to see the show at the Byham Theater Downtown. Now, they’ll have the opportunity to round out their experience by meeting cast members and playing an acting game with them.

This morning’s workshop is a special moment for Laidlaw. He reconnects with a former Arts Education Department intern, Lauryn Morgan Thomas, who is currently touring with the show.

Wednesday, February 20
Load-in Lunch with The Phantom of the Opera & Buzzword Pittsburgh Workshop

Laidlaw moderates a “Load-in Lunch” at the Benedum Center with Max Quinlan, Resident Director for PHANTOM OF THE OPERA tour.  This special event is a perk of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust membership.  As the company unloads trucks full of equipment, props, and costumes for this spectacular production, Laidlaw and Quinlan’s conversation sheds light on the the extensive two-day setup process, including insights about its show stopping 850-pound chandelier. (Hint: It travels in its own truck, and requires the removal of part of the theater’s ceiling for proper installation.)

Then, he’s off to the Kingsley Association in East Liberty for a Buzzword Pittsburgh workshop.  Now in its fifth year, Buzzword Pittsburgh brings seven local organizations—Carnegie Science Center, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Festival Opera, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Trying Together, and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust—to engage families in creative activities that expand children’s vocabulary and conversation skills.

Thursday, February 21
Pre-show Talk, The Phantom of the Opera

Not every PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh production offers a weekday matinee performance, but when they do, they’re a popular field trip option for school groups. Today, a group of Central Catholic High School students are treated to a pre-show talk with four cast members from the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA tour in the Peirce Studio of the Trust Arts Education Center. Laidlaw moderates again, encouraging questions from the young men, who want to know about everything from life on the road to each cast member’s “dream role.”

Friday, February 22
MasterClass with Paul Taylor Dance Company

Laidlaw finishes the week with a MasterClass at Point Park University.  Paul Taylor Dance Company is in town for a performance at the Byham Theater tomorrow showcasing works from Mr. Taylor’s seven-decade career. The students learn and practice contemporary dance with a member of the company.

Trust Arts Education team

Trust Arts Education team

And that’s a wrap on Laidlaw’s week, though it should be noted that the work of an Arts Education programming manager is never quite done. In-between sessions, Laidlaw has been diligently planning and finalizing the next round of activities for the upcoming week.

What keeps him cheerful and motivated? “Seeing how we [the Arts Education Department] can impact lives across ages and generations.”

Interested in learning more about upcoming classes, workshops, and community events? Check out the Trust Arts Education section of our website.

Lead photo: Laidlaw at a TN Inspire! session at the Tessitura Learning & Community Conference in 2018.

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