Thursday, February 28, 2013
Carrie LaFerle Gergely: A Life in Theatreby Gillian Ellis
Carrie LaFerle Gergely, who graduated from OU with a B.A. in theatre in 2003, is the office manager and school coordinator of the famed Groundlings Theatre and School on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. The Goundlings’ shows almost always sell out and their list of alumni, which includes such luminaries as Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell and Maya Rudolph, is formidable. Their improv and sketch writing classes are in high demand. A recent refurbishment has left the organization ready to celebrate its 40th anniversary in style. Paint has been applied and new classrooms opened. Of course, none of this would be possible if the Groundlings were not leaving the stage to loud applause every night. But that is not the whole story.
“Lots of things go into making a theatre successful,” says Carrie Gergely. “People who understand that and have the necessary skills are a rare breed and can thrive in this business.” Carrie is talking about skills in development, marketing, business analysis, box office and customer service, among other things.
In her theatre management job Carrie says she is responsible for “all the boring stuff that no one else wants to do but I got randomly good at.” She does all the accounting, human resources, insurance and licensing for the entire company, as well as teacher relations and scheduling for the Groundlings School classes. Without her work, the applause at the end of each show would not happen. Read more about the Groundlings here.
Carrie grew up in Shelby Township and attended Eisenhower High School. She originally planned to perform, but a couple of years into her studies she found herself more drawn to the technical aspects of theatre, and especially to directing. She says, “I have good organizations skills and I liked researching and developing the heart of a show.” And, “As much as I loved acting, I kind of liked telling other people how to do it.” Her first introduction to directing was in classes with Professor Karen Sheridan. Carrie says “Karen is a unique teacher who thinks outside the box and challenged us to do the same. Taking directing classes with her made me want to expand the scope of my creativity.”
At OU Carrie says she learned that the best directors understand all aspects of theatre, and after graduation she looked for a position that would allow her the hands-on experience she wanted. She found a postgraduate internship at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre in light, sound and special effects, which gave her the opportunity to design for main stage productions. She worked on five productions during the season and when it was over, she decided to try her luck in California.
Throughout school and her internship she had worked a variety of retail jobs, which had provided her with much more than money to support herself. Carrie says she learned essential business skills at each place she worked. As a valued employee, she was able to transfer from her job with Victoria’s Secret in Kalamazoo to a management position in a large volume store in Burbank.
Once established on the West Coast she began to look for contract work in design, lighting, theatre management and especially stage management, which she believes is her real forté. As jobs came her way she built her résumé and her portfolio. One of her favorite gigs was the opportunity to stage manage the Toyota Symphonies for Youth at the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
Eventually, while still doing contract work, Carrie took a full time job as hospitality manager at the Pasadena Playhouse, where she oversaw many private parties. In 2010, the Playhouse filed for bankruptcy and when it emerged four months later, Carrie was one of only three administrative staff rehired. This very small crew was tasked with re-establishing the credibility of the theatre and allaying the misgivings of donors and subscribers. She found herself doing a myriad of tasks, including running the box office and managing retail operations, drawing on skills she had learned in her retail jobs as well as her theatre and business classes at OU. Carrie was also sharpening new talents that would prepare her for her next job, the one she currently holds with the Groundlings.
It’s not all business for Carrie. She continues to take contract tech work, most recently stage managing an LA production of the one-woman show Shaheed before its production in New York off-Broadway. Read more about Shaheed here.
Carrie believes theatre is always a blend of art and commerce. She says, “The director may have an artistic problem, but someone else has to make sure the solution is affordable and complies with Equity rules. There is always a delicate balance.” Her advice to students is: “Learn business as well as theatre. It’s the best thing you can do for your career.”
Photo: Carrie Gergely at the Groundlings Theatre and School. Photo by Gillian Ellis