A few years ago, Briana Haynie compiled a series of oral histories about the founding and development of Sea Tea Improv. Over the past year they ran the most successful kickstarter for a comedy theater ever and on August 20th they officially opened their doors to the public! We spoke to Julia Pistel, a founding member and managing director of Sea Tea Improv, in the fleeting calm that would follow opening weekend…
As a founding member of Sea Tea, how does it feel to come this far?
Amazing. It has been so intense for the last year—the founders and owners are just trying to catch our breaths and enjoy what we’ve done. It’s funny, I was going through some old emails—someone was asking us for milestones—and I don’t remember this, but some of our founders were talking about opening a theater one day. Back in 2010 that was unrealistic, so it’s really something we’ve been working slowly but very steadily towards for seven years. It’s really exciting to have those doors open and get to work.
I imagine the role of Managing Director changes from theatre to theatre depending on size and content. Describe your role as the Managing Director for those who may not know what that is.
Let me start by not answering your question and describing the Artistic Director first, and then I’ll describe the difference between the two, because that’s where it gets interesting.
The Artistic Director, as we see it, is to make sure that everything that is happening within the theater is excellent. Of course, that can mean a number of different things. It can be the best improv you’re ever going to see, it can be some really experimental stuff, it can mean including a lot of people. His job is basically to make sure what happens on the stage is reflective of the quality that we want to see and bring to Hartford and Connecticut.
My job as the Managing Director is very different. It’s to keep the doors open, keep the place running and make sure we stay alive. What my job covers right now is a really interesting question because I’m in transition. Until last week, the main focus of my job was to make sure the construction project got finished. Now that it is done, my job is managing the staff that’s working and running the theater; building community relationships and connections to help build out the audience; to keep an eye on the big picture, making sure everything under the umbrella is getting done; and making decisions about what our priorities are as a company to make sure we are fulfilling our mission.