Over the past three years, Aaron L. McKinney (Theater MFA 13) focused on becoming a producer. Immersing himself in all aspects of theater production, McKinney gathered teams of artists for productions, booked performance venues, coordinated auditions and rehearsals, wrote ads, and supervised marketing and house management, among a host of other tasks. As part of his degree program, he produced or assisted in the production of numerous shows, including: Timboctou, an international collaboration between CalArts Center for New Performance and Cultura UDG of Guadalajara; Prosper Spring, an experimental interdisciplinary opera; and The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, a play directed by acclaimed actress LisaGay Hamilton. Besides his studies, McKinney also worked part time, writing press releases for the CalArts Office of Public Affairs.
Mastering the Theater Program’s 'Boot Camp'
McKinney describes his three-year master’s program as a boot camp in which the faculty’s scrupulous critiques of his work developed and sharpened his skillset. “At CalArts, I’ve learned how to put teams of writers, directors, and actors together. I’ve learned to create a budget, manage cash flow, and handle all other aspects of theater production,” McKinney says. “I have also developed relationships with people whom I want to work with in the future, both fellow CalArtians and others."
"My biggest surprise was discovering how determined I am to succeed."
CalArts Mentor’s Recommendation Leads to Internship
As an African American, McKinney says that his goal is to produce plays about the experiences of African Americans and other minority groups—not just staging them because he finds the subject matter important––but making sure that they find an audience through unique staging or other methods. In mid-2012, at the end of his second year, McKinney began discussing his future career path with his faculty mentor, Carol Bixler, head of producing at CalArts and producing director for the School of Theater and CalArts Center for New Performance. She suggested that he contact 651 ARTS in Brooklyn, a performing arts organization whose work focuses on the African American experience. The executive director of 651 ARTS is Shay Wafer, the former managing director of Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles. Leslie Tamaribuchi, the director of strategy and research of CalArts Center for New Performance and a board member at Cornerstone, sent an email to Wafer, recommending McKinney to her. In August, McKinney flew to New York and interviewed with Wafer. A few weeks later, she offered him an internship with the company.
On the Road to His Goal: Internship Leads to Full-Time Job
McKinney began his management internship in January, and over the past few months, he assisted Wafer in launching a family performing arts series, helped cultivate the organization’s board of directors, and performed numerous general administration tasks. When the marketing manager resigned in March, he took over marketing duties. In early May, 651 ARTS offered McKinney a full-time job as an associate producer. While taking on new duties at 651 ARTS, he’ll pursue his goal of becoming an independent producer on his own time.
“When I came to CalArts, I needed to develop my artistic aesthetic and see how far I would go to make things happen. I had to figure out what it is that I stand for and decide what type of art best represents me. Now I know where I’m going.”