By Bridgette Redman
Diane Wilcox has moved from one side of the country to the other, but at the end of her first season at Nederlander’s Broadway in Tucson, the new general manager finds herself once again launching a pre-“Hamilton” season.
Wilcox, who arrived in Tucson in September 2018, has been in arts management since 1983, working for such organizations as Broadway/San Diego, San Diego’s The Old Globe Theatre, Gaslamp Quarter Theatre in San Diego, L.A. Public Theatre, and most recently Wharton Center in East Lansing, Michigan.
“It is very exciting for the second time in my career to be working on a pre-‘Hamilton’ season and to be able to bring it to a new audience,” Wilcox says.
“Hamilton,” the mega-hit hip-hop musical about America’s first secretary of the treasury by Lin-Manuel Miranda, will be part of the 2020-2021 season at Broadway of Tucson. To guarantee the much sought-after tickets, patrons should become a Signature subscriber in both the 2019-2020 season and then renewing for the 2020-2021 season. Wilcox wants to ensure they have a season that will convince new subscribers that theater is something they want as part of their life not only for Hamilton, but for many seasons after that.
It’s a task made easier, she says, because Tucson is a strong, educated, theater-going market. Much of her audience sees shows in New York, Chicago or elsewhere before coming to see the offerings at Tucson.
“Tucson really is an arts community,” Wilcox says. “It is outstanding how much art is going on constantly. UA Dance is one of the top two dance programs in the country and they do an extraordinary job. There is a strong symphony. The visual arts are everywhere you go.”
Leaving behind Michigan’s snowy weather has been a great move for her and her husband. She said her husband is an avid desert person who has written a book about one of California’s deserts.
“This is his environment,” she says. “For me, it is the opportunity to hike in the mountains. I love the physical environment. We had everything this year from heat to snow. It was crazy to enjoy snow without the freezing weather that is in Michigan.”
She also said Tucsonans have been very welcoming and it is a pleasure to work with a sophisticated arts audience that is well acquainted and well versed in everything from music to theater to the visual arts.
“People really enjoy the arts here and for me that is a big draw.”
Wilcox has been in the arts almost all her life, with the exception of a short stint where she was the director of a downtown association. She went to Occidental College where she majored in theater with an emphasis in acting and had a Soviet studies minor.
She left college knowing she was not going to be an actor, so she started working in a box office, picking up jobs stage managing and working backstage.
“I decided I wanted to be in arts administration because it would be more stable,” Wilcox says.
She worked in marketing for several theaters and soon gained experience in Broadway tour presenting while in San Diego. When she went to Wharton, she got the chance to expand her skills into areas that would eventually make her the perfect fit for Nederlander’s Broadway in Tucson and its partnership with UA Presents, which manages the events at the University of Arizona Centennial Hall. In addition to being general manager at Broadway in Tucson, she has the title of director of operations/marketing strategy for UA Presents.
“I got the opportunity to branch out from theater and get that exposure to arts presenting,” says Wilcox, who at Wharton helped market seasons that included dance, theater, classical music, jazz and musical variety shows.
“I loved being on campus and being a part of the university. It was just so great working with students.”
She says that being in Tucson brings together the two sides of what she enjoys most—the arts and working with students.
Wilcox’s predecessor, Lendre Kearns, helped form the partnership in which the for-profit Nederlander organization provides management and marketing services for the non-profit UA Presents, a model unique in the industry.
“What Kearns built with Broadway in Tucson and what she has built with UA Presents is really terrific. She created the relationship with Arts Express, she brought Broadway shows to the university from its former venue an she created these really beautiful partnerships.”
Wilcox says Kearns’ outstanding work has helped put both organizations on a financially sound footing. It’s an arrangement Wilcox was well-prepared to step into.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m here—I have the university experience as well as the overall presenting,” Wilcox says. “I am familiar with both sides of the equation.”
Wilcox has several goals she wants to achieve in Tucson, but three stand out to her at the end of her first year:
Hiring an executive director for UA Presents
Filling the seats at Centennial Hall
Implementing sensory friendly performances
UA Presents has been without an executive director since Nederlander formed the partnership in 2014. That’s a situation they’re close to changing and Wilcox says she wants to help provide continuity as that transition happens so that they can further enrich their engagement and education opportunities.
Wilcox says they are not yet filling the hall 100% for all their events even though she knows there is an audience for what they are doing.
“I feel like our year-round residents may not know enough about who we are, how fun it is to attend and how easy and accessible our prices are,” Wilcox says.
“One of my goals is to really work to make sure our year-rounders know that it is something available to them.”
While in East Lansing, Wilcox spearheaded the creation of sensory friendly performances at Wharton Center and statewide. These productions provide accessible performances to people who are on the autism spectrum or who have sensory disorders or sensitivities. It is an undertaking that requires collaboration among a wide swath of people as not only must a production make technical changes, but specialists have to educate house staff, provide safe spaces and quiet rooms, and provide a wealth of information to families that can help prepare a child for the experience.
“I feel like that was one of the most important things I’ve done in my life,” Wilcox says. “Our intention was to make the entire community a sensory friendly community. It took us three years to get that program off the ground at Wharton, I would like to get it off the ground here as a regular opportunity to provide for all audiences.”
She says she is certain there will be a lot of support for it in Tucson. The dean of the College of Fine Arts at UA was named the university’s vice president of the arts, showing the value that the institution places on the arts. She expects that sensory-friendly performances can be a part of that.
Meanwhile, Wilcox continues to be grateful that she’s had a career in arts administration and has a chance to serve Tucson.
“The ability to touch people’s hearts, to bring new experiences to them in ways which enrich their lives and bring them a different perspective on the world—that’s why I do what I do,” Wilcox says. “When you walk in and see an audience react with passion to something you helped bring—no matter how hard the day is, it doesn’t matter because that’s something you did.”