Rachel Wandrei: Passion, Idealism and Dedication

In June, Rachel Wandrei joined Park Square Theatre as its full-time Marketing and Engagement Manager, and she hasn’t stopped smiling since. She loves her new job, which involves helping to promote Park Square and finding effective avenues toward community engagement.

Like many theatre professionals, Rachel grew up in love with theatre. Her first theatrical crush was on the musical Chess, which she saw at the age of five. Her affinity for the stage continued to strengthen as she watched each of her four older sisters perform in school musicals.

“I wanted to be a star!” said Rachel with a hearty laugh.

Fast forwarding many years later, Rachel earned a bachelor’s degree in Music and Opera Performance from Oberlin College & Conservatory in Ohio and continued study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. After realizing she wanted something more than a life on stage, she started working in restaurants where she discovered her knack for management. After a few years in Boston, she moved back to be closer to family in her native Minnesota and continued working in restaurants, including the Bryant Lake Bowl and Barbette.

“Here I was, a woman trained as an artist but with a natural affinity for systems, strategies and spreadsheets. I’d been classically trained, used to discipline and routine. I understand artists but am rooted in the concrete: How do we do it? Is it feasible and possible?” Rachel said. “Then I suddenly had an epiphany moment! Can I do theatre/musical arts and management?”

Rachel “tested the waters” of her newfound interest by interning at Forecast Public Art, which describes itself as “a nonprofit arts organization that connects the energies and talents of artists with the needs and opportunities of communities.” This internship, as well as extensive networking, opened her eyes to what Rachel referred to as “the concept and potential of creative placemaking.”

“I had jumped from being Rachel as the opera person,” she said, “to becoming the restaurant person to contemplating ways that art can be integrated into community development–for theatre to play a role in society, to foster civic dialogue and to make the world a better place.”

At Forecast Public Art, Rachel became a project manager for Making It Public, a workshop for artists who are new to working in public art learn how to do it. (Rachel, in fact, continues her involvement with Making It Public and will be a co-facilitator this fall.)

With her newfound passion, what was Rachel’s next logical step? To attend Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota for a master’s degree in Arts and Cultural Management. This is where, according to Rachel, “I learned about the entire nonprofit arts ecosystem. I do not have a specific accounting or marketing degree, but I learned about marketing, fundraising, finance and how they all fit together and how all the moving pieces connect to make the theatre run.”

While earning her degree, she worked as the administrative manager for Z Puppets Rosenschnoz, a small performance troupe started in 1998, and as company manager for Mixed Precipitation’s Picnic Operetta, a company she’d sung with previously. She also came to know Park Square’s Executive Director Michael-jon Pease, whose alma mater is Saint Mary’s, as a student in a class that he was teaching there. They’d hit it off, and she steadily learned more about Park Square through his class lectures. “I’d been to Park Square before, seeing Words By…Ira Gershwin and the Great American Songbook, but it was through Michael-jon’s class that I learned how forward thinking Park Square is.” Eventually, Pease invited her to fulfill her degree requirement of a residency at Park Square Theatre, which she did as part of the Development, not Marketing, team.

“That’s how I got immersed in Park Square Theatre,” Rachel said. “I loved their approach to theatre and different kinds of plays to promote community engagement–plays such as this coming season’s Dot and Cardboard Piano. Plus I’d been with really small companies and was drawn to a bigger place, but not to a place so big that you don’t have a voice. Park Square has big dreams and the stability, systems and resources to move into the 21st century.”

Having already built a relationship with Park Square Theatre, Rachel was deemed a perfect fit for the organization. Only two months into her job, she’s been steadily busy with mailings, social media tasks, hosting events and taking on the diversity and inclusion elements once handled by former Artistic Programming Associate Jamil Jude, who has moved on to True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta. While the latter can be rather daunting, Rachel is game to learn and help bring Park Square’s vision to fruition, saying, “This is vital work, and I am honored and delighted that I can be a part of it!”


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