The arts and culture industries remain largely at a standstill in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, affecting millions of workers in an already delicate ecosystem. The Broadway Community Project, from industry veterans Greg Schaffert, Tiffani Gavin, Situation Interactive, and Playbill, was developed to shed light on the myriad fields and roles that go into making the curtain rise.
In the Broadway Community Project series, we shine a spotlight on the faces you may not see on stage, but are nevertheless critical in creating and maintaining a theatre production. These are just some of the arts workers who have put their stamp on an industry that contributed over $14.7 billion to the New York economy in 2019 and $877 billion in value added nationally; these are just some of the arts workers in need of relief through Save Our Stages, arts recovery plans, and beyond.
Today, meet Matt Rodriguez, who has worked in theatre merchandising in several capacities since moving to New York in 2008. Most recently, as a manager with The Araca Group, Rodriguez oversaw a team of sales associates and handled banking, inventory, deliveries, and more for Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre. It was through his work that theatregoers were able to bring back a piece of Oz as a keepsake (in addition to a Playbill, of course). He had previously worked at such shows as In the Heights, The Addams Family, and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Name: Matt Rodriguez
Title: Merchandise Manager
How did you get your start in merchandising?
The summer before I moved to NYC in 2008, I was performing in a dinner theatre in Pennsylvania. In the last couple of weeks before the show closed, I was trying to figure out where I could work and what I could do. I found my first merchandise job by going on the jobs section of Playbill.com and answering an ad. I set up my interviews for when I would be officially in the city and got the job. I have worked for three different companies, including my most recent employer, The Araca Group, as my main source of income.
What is a typical day like for you on the job?
Every day is a different adventure! As the manager, my call times would be two-and-a-half hours before the curtain goes up. I would start off my day by answering emails, which included inquiries about putting together wholesale orders for Broadway stores, promotional orders for the company or special guests, figuring out what the side jobs were that needed to be done (e.g. folding shirts, stuffing programs with cast inserts, putting mugs in boxes), and figuring out at which booths to put my staff. When my selling staff arrived, which was typically an hour after my call time, I would have a short pre-walk-in meeting about what was going on that day and get them excited about hitting their sales goals and creating a fun atmosphere for the guests. The patrons are typically allowed into the theatre (which we call walk-in) 30 minutes before the show starts (at Wicked, because it is a larger theatre, our walk-in was typically 45 minutes before the show), and this is when the first round of selling happens (we also sell during intermission and after the show ends). During the show, I would typically continue to answer emails, put the wholesale or promotional orders together, and help upkeep the stock room. After the show ends and the last patron has left the building, I would do the banking for the day, make sure the sellers balanced, and send them on their way. My out time would be one-and-a-half hours after the curtain came down, and I‘m usually the last person out of the building besides the doorman.
Do you have a favorite memory or fun anecdote from your time on the job?
I met the man who became my husband while working at In the Heights. I was working merchandise, and he was working the infrared listening devices for the patrons. Also, opening SpongeBob SquarePants as merchandise manager was a dream! Not only did I absolutely fall in love with the show, but it was also the first time I truly felt like I was a small part of the production. So many people from the back of house knew me by name, including the dressers, actors, and stage managers. They would greet me when I would come in and made me feel very welcomed.
What's your professional life like during the coronavirus pandemic?
Unfortunately, I’ve been officially unemployed since March 23. Starting in August, after a very low couple of months, I started a video series on Instagram called Get Famous Thursday, where I sing a different song every week to a track that I create myself. It’s been one of the only things keeping me going. Come check it out!
What does it mean to you to be a part of the theatre community?
It is everything to me. I have always wanted to be a part of the Broadway community for as long as I can remember, and I have gotten to be from the moment I arrived in the city. I get to help commemorate the Broadway experience of a person, couple, or family. I may not have been the entire reason why the patron has come to visit, but oftentimes I get to share in their first and last moments in the building before they go home. Just knowing that I was able to complete their experience by giving them the opportunity to go home with a piece of the show is so rewarding.