Community is a constant theme in both this conversation and Scott Greenberg’s life. There is scarcely something more important than maintaining a sense of togetherness in times such as these, and I hope this interview serves as a reminder of the uplifting communities to be found (especially in the arts world). There are so many amazing people and industries that act as catalysts behind the scenes to give artists the space to share, not only is Scott one of these people, but he also rocks it out on stage himself. Scott has so much perspective to share on a creativity driven life that has to cohesively run with the business side of things. From law student to heading up marketing and communications for the ballet company of America’s capital, it sure was a wonderfully obscure path to learn about. What a sublime and refreshing conversation this was.
Disclaimer* all of Scott’s amazing insights could not be put into a blog post word for word. Hence, some of his answers have been condensed with his approval.
What is your current profession and what has your career path been?
I am the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for The Washington Ballet in DC, USA.
My career path has certainly been wonky, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I studied entertainment law after undergrad. However, I realised during my study that I didn’t actually want to be a lawyer. By chance, a friend recommended I intern at a fashion and PR (public relations) firm in the summer following my first year of law school. It sounded like a much cooler option than clerking at the courts, so though my dean advised against it I leapt at the opportunity. It didn’t take long for this internship to show me that PR was what I wanted to do. I was so lucky to find a situation where I could act myself, be myself, and feel like I was succeeding whilst doing so. After moving to the north of Florida with my wife, I started my own PR company that primarily represented music festivals, musicians, and that genre of the arts in general. The first two festivals I worked with were the first festivals to actually build stages on the beach, so it was a really unique offering. It became very fun to pitch these festivals to a national audience and say ‘come to this music festival, you can dig your toes in the sand and watch your favorite bands’. It was the first time that was happening on a grand scale in the United States, this was in the mid 2000s. My next step happened after coming to DC where my wife needed to move for her job. Upon arriving in Washington, DC I did some hospitality work at places such as The W Hotel. I had been keeping an eye out for a suitable full time position, and The Washington Ballet happened to pop up on my radar. Quite honestly I didn’t know much about ballet, but in my interview the marketing director at the time specified they wanted someone different who didn’t have a ballet background in order to tap into new audiences. At that moment, I knew the job was the right fit. I represented the public relations efforts which entailed working with the media and pitching to the press. We had some really marquee moments, such as Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mac performing Swan Lake together on a grand stage. After this position at TWB, I moved to an agency and worked on projects such as The Cherry Blossom Festival. During my time at this agency The Washington Ballet had a change over of directors and needed a new website. Through putting in a bid to build the website I built a great relationship with the new TWB administration and was offered the job of heading up the ballet’s communications team. This involves advertising, social media, public relations, marketing, and strategy. The job overseas marketing and sales from cradle to grave. I have been back with TWB in this capacity for 2 years now, and love it.
Do you have a favourite quote/poem/piece of art, if so could you share it?
My favourite book is Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.
I feel as though you are in a dream state the whole time you’re reading it. Everything is foggy, calm, beautiful, and simple. I think a book like that is a way to reset and remember we’re all going to be okay. On the opposite side of the spectrum my favorite canvas art is abstract expressionism which is inherently angry, aggressive, loud, and in your face. I think there’s a really interesting polarity in that; maybe I’m looking for different things in different forms of art.
Do you have a morning routine?
Structure is very important to me as a father of a four year old and someone who has a very high professional output. My morning always starts with spending time in the kitchen preparing a really nice breakfast for my son. I’m definitely not a morning person, so I use this time to wake up for the day ahead. Currently with Corona and homeschool, I’m trying to get as much outdoor time with my son as I can before the weather turns very cold. That is high on the priority list, so either doing a morning walk, going to a new park, or just playing in the backyard. Whatever it may be, all whilst sneaking a look at my phone to see how many emails are coming in. Then quite honestly, I love treating myself to a giant Starbucks drink. My go to morning move is a nine pump venti iced chai latte with light ice and four scoops of matcha. That’s the one order I always stick to and I make sure to get that in the morning so that I’ve got a little treat for myself throughout the day. I will say, when the first email comes through often the morning routine goes out the window. You have a list of things that you want to achieve for the day or for the week, but then business starts. Inherently tides shift and you have to be able to adapt. Whilst it can be very stressful, it keeps a profession such as mine fresh.
What values within yourself does bringing art to the broader community speak to?
I have seen two schools of a professional approach to my job. One is by the book, the kind of public relations strategy that you would learn in college. The other is simply being able to understand the human on the other side of a phone call, or on the other side of an email. Therefore being able to psychologically be thinking about what they need, and about forming a relationship with that person so they perceive you as another human. PR can then become less about what you’ve learned in the textbook, and more about being human with other humans; and I love that. I think that’s the most important thing that you can do, just be kind, be charming, be helpful, and work together to create something powerful. Bringing art to the community also requires a lot of empathy, and that is a quality the world needs more of during these uncertain times. Winning people over with charm and empathy is a skill that goes way beyond Public Relations and Marketing. I think it just has to do with treating your neighbor in a good way.
How important has it felt to you to continue encouraging community involvement in the arts throughout the pandemic?
We have had community physically stripped from us, and to get through such times community needs to be the most important thing. The performing arts model is a sacred theatre experience. It is an audience member showing up, getting dressed up for the night, and leaping quickly through the program before the lights go down. Then the lights go down and you’re sitting next to a bunch of strangers getting to share this beautiful experience. Intermission happens and maybe you see someone that you know and say ‘Oh my gosh, what did you think about that first act’? Or ‘What did you think about this dancer’? That interactivity, sense of community, and sense of shared interests, is very bruised when you’re going from a zoom call to zoom call. One thing we are very aware of at The Washington Ballet is continuing to create a sense of community, albeit a digital one. For example, after our first digital world premier we made sure to have a live after party with all of the choreographers, artistic directors, and composers. Using the chat function, anyone and everyone could ask questions to anyone they wanted to. It has felt very important to continue combating the sterility of the screen in creative ways. That way we aren’t just individuals trapped at home, we are still part of a group and arts community. I feel a responsibility to help facilitate those genuine moments, even in this digital era.
What does the balance between art and logistics look like for you in your work? Are you drawn to one aspect over the other?
I enjoy the ideation phase. I enjoy thinking about new and clever ideas. I don’t know what it is about me, but I recognize that after that point I need to surround myself with a team of experts who can help me take these ideas to the finish line. For me, it’s very much creativity first. At the same time, I have a financial responsibility to the organization. Hence, my creative ideas have to be ones that are geared to support and grow the organization financially. Both the artistic and the logistic aspects are important and need to complement each other.
As a member of the Monticello Young Advisors, why is sharing a holistic view of Jefferson’s life so important to you?
I think there is a current global issue of people having forgotten how to talk to one another. People have forgotten how to have a conversation without being extremely combative and dismissive and saying, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’. The Thomas Jefferson foundation and Monticello is a really interesting organization that has at its forefront Thomas Jefferson, an American icon. He was a genius, but there are some monstrous things associated with his name, his actions, and who he was. That polarity, just inside one person is fascinating, and heartbreaking, and phenomenally interesting. When people are invited to Monticello, they’re invited to an architectural masterpiece that’s very rich in American history. At the same time, it is a place where hundreds were enslaved and hundreds were separated from their families… absolute atrocities happened there. So, how do we as a society reconcile that past and move forward together? Not delete history but better recognize it. Most importantly, how do we not only talk about our history, but include multiple viewpoints? That’s what I find fascinating. I felt like I needed to be a part of the conversation, if I could be helpful in any way. The first meeting I went on was a bit of discovery, but I think within five minutes I knew that this was a group where I could be of service.
Do you ever experience any fear around sharing your art with others? If so, what is greater than that fear?
I think mistakes are something that we all should look forward to. Let’s destigmatize the fact that we are going to screw up. It’s important not to let self consciousness, eat at your desire to share what you create. I’m not too self conscious about much at all, but if anyone does have a tendency to be, just put your art out there, it’s going to be okay.
What perceived ‘failure’ has turned into your most helpful lesson on your journey thus far?
During law school I had to do a great deal of soul searching. There was a lot of not knowing who I was. Looking back, I feel much of that was environmentally based, not being in the right setting for my specific talents. At the time, not feeling like I belonged in law school felt like a failure. Thankfully I recognised this and found the right outlet for my specific skill set. I think failure for some people may just be based on the current road that they’re on and switching gears could be really exciting. Those uncertain times in law school taught me that life is hard, but at the end of the day, it will all be okay.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword, so if you could scribe one word to use as your weapon in life what would it be?
I think ‘hello’ is so important. I wish I knew that in high school, or when I first moved to college and began dating. Don’t be afraid to go up to someone and say start a conversation! Just start the conversation and see what happens. Noone should ever be afraid to talk to anyone else.
What is one thing that’s integral for you whilst striving for a holistic approach to life?
Always remember to be kind, I think that is so critical. There is nothing cooler than being kind and genuine to those who you come into contact with. Life is tough for almost everyone, and it’s not that hard to be nice. Being nice won’t stop you from succeeding professionally, you don’t have to play the house of cards or the game of ladders, you just have to be genuine and kind and everything will be fine.
Do you feel performing live music has provided you any qualities/values that aid your marketing and media work?
Performing live is the most exhilarating feeling, and I view sharing as a huge aspect of performing. Your body is responding to your brain, your brain is responding to your body, and there’s this flow. Through that flow, you connect with someone in the audience and now they are a part of that flow and that feeling. You’ve channeled your vibes to them and their vibes to you, and you’re sharing a moment, but you’re also sharing a mood, and that mood is a good mood. I love to see how many ways I can inject that same feeling into different areas of life, which definitely includes my work. Whether I’m on stage or on a marketing call I’m still trying to establish a connection with another person.
In what ways would you like to see readers’ minds expand with this interview?
Since community was an emerging theme of this conversation, I would love this interview to be a catalyst, or a moment, where Sarah, Scott, and reader can all have a continued conversation. Let’s invite that conversation, make a new friend, and learn something more about each other.
You can find Scott on Instagram @dcdebonair or reach him at email@example.com