As Juilliard’s special events manager, Stephanie Gatton is all about logistics for the some 75 development and school events held annually. One of the biggest parts of the portfolio is Juilliard’s biennial gala, which this year takes place on April 29 and includes a performance in the Sharp Theater followed by dinner and dancing for 700 in a tent on the Lincoln Center Plaza.
Stephanie grew up in suburban Maryland and got her bachelor’s degree at Georgetown, where she studied English, creative writing, and theater, and earned an M.F.A. in theater stage management from the University of California at San Diego. Prior to Juilliard, where she began working a year ago, she spent five years as associate theater manager at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. She and her fiancé live in Astoria with their two dogs, Marley, a miniature poodle, and Duchess, a pit bull.
What was your first day at Juilliard like?
I remember the warm welcome from my new Development colleagues with bagels and coffee in the morning, and flowers and a lovely card from my boss. Though I did end up missing the welcome lunch because my email account hadn’t been set up, so I didn't get the notification about it. But there have been several nice lunches since then!
What job at Juilliard would you like to try out for a day?
I love where I am right now, but if I had to pull a Freaky Friday, I’d love to step into Kathy Hood’s shoes and see what it’s like to be the administrative director of the Drama Division. Or I’d be a piano tuner and take apart and put back together a Steinway one day. I feel like they’re the unsung heroes of Juilliard.
What's the strangest job you’ve had?
I consistently racked up odd experiences while working part-time as a sales associate for Victoria’s Secret in college. It was in the most fashionable area of D.C., so we often had celebrity clients. Brooke Shields was one, and I also fit Chelsea Clinton (then the President’s gangly high-school daughter) for a bra while her Secret Service detail stood nearby. Every moment was mortifying to her, but she soldiered on, and I got her rung up and out the door as quickly as I could.
What’s the craziest day at work you’ve had?
Coming from the theater world, I can safely say that many of my work days have been crazy. But nothing can top managing and running a 24-hour program on the concept of time during my first year at the Guggenheim. We had 48 different presenters, lecturers, performers, and artists giving different presentations every 30 minutes, without any breaks, from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 p.m. Thursday. I don’t think people realize the sheer amount of advance planning and forethought that goes into something like that. But all of it paid off with a successful program, though I was awake for 36 hours straight (minus a two-hour nap), armed with coffee, Red Bull, extra batteries for my headset, and my detailed breakdown of everything that every person needed to do to keep all the balls in the air. Compared to that, even the most daunting project seems doable.
You’re getting married this summer—does your work at Juilliard make you more or less nervous about planning your wedding?
Less, actually, because so much of what I do on a daily basis here in Special Events is directly applicable to planning my wedding. I’m trying to see it as a performance I’m stage managing, except that the stage manager is never the star, so I’ve asked a good friend who’s also an event planner to step in on the day of the wedding to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. Wish us luck!
If out of the blue your boss said to take the day off, what would you do?
If she gave me advance notice, I’d probably travel as far away as I could to see a new city and come back late at night. If I found out the morning of, I’d probably sleep in, take my dogs for a walk in Astoria Park, get lunch at a favorite restaurant, and see a museum exhibit or a matinee, and maybe get a massage. Dinner would be with my fiancé and friends at another favorite restaurant in Queens—maybe M. Wells Steakhouse, Agnanti, or the Strand Smokehouse.
Many Juilliard staff members are also artists. If that applies to you, how do you balance your job and your artistic endeavors?
I’ve always struggled with whether I see myself as an artist: Stage managers often aren’t seen in such an artistic capacity. But the stage manager is the person who carries out the director’s vision once the show opens, and long after the director is gone. We need to speak the language of directing, of design, of music, of acting. I’ve come to realize that the work I do supports the art that is being created and that I am one of those collaborators.
I received my undergrad degree in creative writing, and it’s been difficult to keep up a writing practice, though I take the occasional writing workshop and seek out ways to include writing in my day-to-day work. I also was a trained classical pianist in my youth, but those muscles have atrophied! Fortunately, I just started taking piano lessons in hopes of getting my finger dexterity and music-reading skills back in shape.
What else are you passionate about?
Travel, adventurous food, the Mets (I always root for the underdog), Astoria, and enjoying Duchess and Marley. Marley is a certified therapy dog, and once a month we take him to bring warmth and good feelings to those who need it, where they’re invalids or Juilliard students who need to de-stress—he’ll be here on May 8 to help everyone cope with exams.
What are you reading and following?
In addition to wedding blogs (Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding), I’m kind of addicted to WeHeartAstoria. Between fashion, shopping, food, and culture, the three lovely ladies who run it seem to have the pulse of all that is new and/or awesome about my little corner of the world. I’ve been slogging through several books (Team of Rivals, London, the Game of Thrones series). Can someone give me more hours in the day to get through it all?