Through her company Walk Tall Productions, for which she is the founder and CEO, arts management professional Marcia Pendelton for the past 15 years has brought numerous critically acclaimed productions to NYC stages. And during those 15 years, Pendelton has worked with some of the biggest names in the Broadway and Off-Broadway arenas including Lynn Nottage, Bill T. Jones, George C. Wolfe, August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, Regina Taylor, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, to name a few.
“Dedicated to making the arts accessible to the widest possible audience with special emphasis on the theater,” as its website touts, Walk Tall has a current client list that includes MOTOWN: The Musical (Broadway), Wild with Happy (The Public Theater) The Piano Lesson (Signature Theatre), Lyrics From Lockdown (National Black Theatre), Choir Boy (Manhattan Theatre Club) and the national tour of FELA! Other clients have included Cat on A Hot Tin Roof with Terrence Howard, Fences with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Fela!, Second Stage Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club, Signature Theatre, The New Group, National Black Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Urban Bush Women Dance Company, American Museum of Natural History and many more.
Bearer of a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Management from the University of Maryland at College Park, she has been honored by The Black Public Relations Society of New York and she sits on the boards for the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Black Theater Network.
Here, we caught up with Pendelton whose career will be celebrated tonight at the Herbert Cave Auditorium of the Harlem Hospital Center in Harlem, NYC. The show, A Taste of My World, will take place in two acts beginning at 5:30 p.m.
TNJ.com: In your 20-year career of marketing theater to new audiences what, if any, challenges have you encountered?
Marcia Pendleton: A lack of resources, both financial and human, has been challenging. Financially, clients sometimes don’t have the money for certain things such as advertising. I counteract that by utilizing my relationships. If there is no money for advertising, whether print, digital or broadcast, I work on other arrangements. I find a way to leverage my relationships to create a good, grassroots game.
TNJ.com: What was your road to embarking on a career in arts management?
M.P.: I got into it by mistake. I wanted to be onstage, but I found that I enjoyed working behind the scenes more. Plus, I got paid more regularly behind the scenes.
My undergraduate degree is in sociology, but back when I was in school, there was information that I did not have. That was a hindrance, so I went back to school and earned an MFA. The theory, criticism, history, performance classes were really helpful. They allowed me to connect all the dots. When I went to grad school, I wanted to be a marketing director, but it never happened. A friend of mine suggested I start my own business. I said “no,” but 3 years later, that‘s what I wound up doing.
TNJ.com: You’ve worked with what I call “the Black royalty of theater” – some of our biggest and most respected Black actors. In light of the recent Emmy awards that Viola Davis, Uzo Aduba and Regina King won for their television work, do you think it’s easier for Black actors to find work in the theater or on television?
M.P.: It’s easier for Black actors to get work in theater. But theater work does not pay as well as television. Dr. Barbara Mollette is a theater scholar, an educator and a playwright. In 1973, she wrote an article about Black women who are playwrights. She speaks about the fact that the more money that is involved in the production, the more people are concerned about maintaining the status quo. And maintaining the status quo means that white men are on top and his stories are the ones being told. Everybody else can grab whatever she or he can grab.
Theater is tougher to produce, but there is more work for Black actors. The problem with Black theaters such as the National Black Theater, The Freedom Theater, or any of the other 86 Black theater companies in this country is that the money is really tight. The larger, mainstream theater companies are able to produce work for some of our better-known playwrights such as Katori Hall, Daniel Beatty or Lynn Nottage. But when you have Black work produced at mainstream companies, they will only do it once every two or three years.
The Public Theater, however, has four pieces this season that speaks to African Americans. But that’s rare.
TNJ.com: Speaking of Black theater, I noticed that there are a few companies such as the Amas Repertory Theater that have Black founders, but White successors. How and why do you think that happens?
M.P.: People give to people, not necessarily institutions. Further, people give to people who look like themselves. That is an issue. In terms of transitioning, moving from a founder to a new artistic director, sometimes the transition is tough. Organizations, whether they are Black or white, have a problem surviving after the departure of the founder. Maintaining an arts organization can be difficult. In some cases, it takes two or three producing artistic directors or executive directors to really get to the point where they are actually seen as leaders.
For example, in the case of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Judith Jamison was very smart to hire Robert Battle. Although I don’t know his work very well, they did a great job in the transition from one artistic director to the next artistic director.
TNJ.com: Tell us about tonight’s show.
M.P.: It’s a three-hour piece that begins with a reception, vendors and a silent auction. Proceeds and money raised from the vendors will go towards arts development at several companies including Quicksilver, Classical Theater of Harlem, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Creative Outlet Dance Theater of Brooklyn.
The second part will be performances. I am hosting the performances and I have a personal connection with each organization or person that has agreed to be a part of this event. Whether the first poem, Mother and Son, by Langston Hughes that I put into a production to the time Marva Hicks and I ran around town promoting Motown The Musical to Andre DeShields who I saw in college perform in The Wiz. Can you believe he can still wear his costume and perform the role?!
TNJ.com: What advice do you have for people looking to get into your line of work?
First off, take advantage of internship programs, both paid and
non-paid. That’s how people get their entry-level jobs. Second,
volunteer as much as you can. Third, go to the theater as much as you
can and see as many plays as possible. Also, experiment with producing
small events like a reading or some kind of small event that pushes the
performing arts. Last, if you have the opportunity to go to graduate
school for an MFA or a combined MFA/MBA program, do so.