An Interview with Theatre Producing Alumna Natalie Gershtein '15

March 30, 2017

It’s been a busy year for Producing alumni Natalie Gershtein ‘15. As the Producing Director of Pipeline Theatre Company,  she worked hand-in-hand with Artistic Director Ari Schrier on the company’s biggest production yet:Beardo, with books and lyrics by Jason Craig and music by Dave Malloy. Gershtein also works for Junkyard Dog Productions in support of their current Broadway musical, Come From Away. []  She sat down to talk to us about her recent work and path to becoming a producer.  
How has the last month or so been?

The last month has been insane in the best possible way. I’ve kinda structured my life where I freelance as a producer, but then I also have my set things in my life which are Come from Away and Pipeline. It’s been very fulfilling, but also very draining. I think there was a period in my life where I said yes to everything, and that worked really well for me. I met a lot of artists that way and I worked with a lot of cool people and cool companies. I don’t know where I got the energy, honestly. Now I think I really want to focus on these two parts of my life. I’m not totally done with freelance work, but we’ll see. I’m going to try to start saying no.

What’s your role on Come From Away?

I work for Junkyard Dog Productions. I think my title is Producing Assistant. They’re not title people, which I love about them, they’re just “do the work” people. It’s been a really interesting experience watching Sue, Randy, Kenny, and Marleen and seeing how they oversee the teams, how they guide, how they lead, and what that means as a producer. I’ve learned an incredible amount from them in terms of leading with kindness and compassion.
For me, if I don’t enjoy the people I’m working with, then it is not worth it. And I learned that sometimes the hard way. I need to know that we’re in it together and for the right reasons and that we’re gonna support each other. I have that both at Pipeline and at Junkyard Dog. Honestly, to me that feels like the luckiest thing, that I’ve found two groups of people that I love so much. You always have to love the show the you’re producing, that’s another thing that I’ve learned. Because you put so much of your heart into it, if you don’t absolutely 100% buy into what you’re doing, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth the time or the risk or everything you’re putting into it: the blood, sweat, and tears.

How do you decide what projects to work on at Pipeline?

It’s very much a conversation between our staff, and I will say Ari leads that charge. She is the Artistic Director first and foremost. But what I love about her is how collaborative we are and how open she is, and I think that runs across the board. She and I produce together and curate together, even though one of us might be leading the charge on either front.

Ultimately it’s about finding the play that really speaks to our mission, and our mission needs to have something so wild and so ambitious that it’s a little bit scary, or it’s a little bit impossible. Our whole thing is saying yes to big ideas.

How did you decide you were interested in being a producer?

That’s a funny story. I was supposed to be a lawyer, like every good Jewish girl from Toronto. I applied to a bunch of different law schools in Canada and I worked in a law firm the summer before my senior year in undergrad. It was just the thing I was set on doing because it was the thing I was supposed to do. Meanwhile, all that time I was directing and writing and really immersed in the creative side of theater, which I absolutely loved.  And I discovered that Columbia had the joint J.D./M.F.A. in Producing degree, so to make it a reasonable argument to my family I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna apply to all these law schools but I’m also going to apply to this one theater school that has both. If I get in, it’s a sign.”
There’s something so beautifully creative about producing that feeds me. Even though I miss directing, I never regret making a choice to go into producing. I actually love doing this and I find it to be so creative. I’m so invigorated by helping other artists create.

What’s next for you?

I really believe in what Pipeline is doing and I believe that if I could commit myself to it in a bigger way, then we are on the precipice of major growth. I think the next step for us is hiring a salaried employee. Currently we don’t have that. So we’re in conversation with our Board of Directors to bring me on as our first salaried employee. And so to do that I’ve had to say no to a couple of freelance projects. One of them was pretty cool, and with a very awesome company, and they offered me more money that any company has ever offered me. And it was really difficult for me to have to say no. But I did it because I think there’s something coming around the corner that I believe in and want to make my priority.

What would you have said to yourself in grad school that would have been helpful?

The thing I always think is: show up. I know that sounds so cliché, but the way that I got to know Pipeline was that I started to show up to everything they did. I just showed up. And every time I did I made sure that I said hi to Ari and I made sure that I stayed in touch. And that’s literally how I became the Producing Director of Pipeline. Ari noticed that there was a producer who was coming to things and she was looking for a partner, and the advice that she got was: look to your audience. Who’s coming?
As soon as you have a real person in front of you that you know and that you can talk to, it sets up a level of trust so that you can develop a relationship. And for better or for worse this industry is built on relationships. So I would say if you want something, put yourself as close to the room as you can get to it.