Today we’d like to introduce you to Amanda Baird.
Amanda, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started my company right after graduating from Oberlin Conservatory of Music with a Bachelor of Music. I was a voice major. Rather than going straight to graduate school, I moved back to Los Angeles and started looking for work. I wasn’t certain that a career in Opera was for me. I knew I loved Musical Theater, because while at Westlake School for Girls I trained at The Music Center, in their Youth Conservatory, Pre-Professional and Professional Workshops. I spent the summer in New York training at Stella Adler and Circle in The Square,
Back in LA, I did what most young actors did, I waitressed to pay the bills, had a brief stint in retail, then decided to give teaching a try. I loved children, so what could go wrong? I became a music and movement teacher at The Center for Early Education, then was hired at Brentwood Lower School, as a Kindergarten Assistant Teacher, and the Head of the Extended Day Program.
Thinking back on it now, everything I know now, I really did learn in Kindergarten. We had just opened the Lower School, so Scott, our headmaster, was looking for after school programs. He had each of us teaching something we loved. I taught Musical Theater.
I’ll never forget, my first production was “The Wizard of Oz”. I had a full class, and as a young, inexperienced teacher and first-time director, I had no idea what I was doing. We took on the full show, with a largely Kindergarten cast and I must say, on the day of our big show, the children were doing a terrific job, until Sarah, my Dorothy’s leg started to shake.
Her mom tapped me on the shoulder and said “Amanda, Sarah has to go to the bathroom…”
“What?? She hasn’t even met the Scarecrow yet! You want me to stop the show?”
“She’ll have an accident right there on the stage if you don’t.”
“Sarah, honey. Do you need to use the bathroom?”
“Yes!” She shrieked, and she and my entire cast of munchkins ran off the stage then and there. I was mortified, but the parents, thank goodness, thought it was the funniest thing they’d seen in a long time. Some were laughing so hard they were crying. The show continued, and the children were terrific.
I was convinced I would be fired, but after the show finally ended, and the children had taken their final bow, I looked sheepishly at Scott. He was chuckling away.
“Good job, kiddo. Next time, make it a little shorter.” I can still hear him laughing as he walked up the stairs to his office. Two years later, I’d gotten much better at directing the shows after school and during the summer.
During my yearend review Scott said he thought I should start my own company offering musical theater enrichment programs. He said Brentwood would be my first client.
“Wait a minute, are you firing me?” I asked.
“No. I’m hiring you. You can do it, you’ll be great! If it doesn’t work out, I’ll hire you back. You’ll always have a home here at Brentwood.”
I took a deep breath and had my mom, who is an artist, draw a sweet illustration for my flyers, and logo. I made hot pink and bright blue flyers, and lots of phone calls to all of the top private schools in the area. Much to my surprise, that first year I had John Thomas Dye, Brentwood, Village School, Carlthorp and Crossroads all on my roster, and was working every day after school. Stage Kids Theater Company, now Musical Theater Los Angeles had been born.
I often wonder, if Scott hadn’t forced my hand, if I would have had the courage or vision to start it on my own. I needed to work, I had no safety net, savings, or investors. I had moxie, Scott’s recommendation and a passion for children, and the belief that the magic they create through participating in musical theater is transformative in so many ways, not only for the children, but for their families and the schools we serve as well. That has taken me down a path I never could have imagined.
I never intended to be an entrepreneur, though I suppose it’s in my blood, as both my parents were too. It’s not easy. Contracts can end suddenly, my clients are largely children, although now we work with adults too, and they grow up. Their interests change or they move away. You have to hustle. You can’t ever get complacent. When I first started I had no staff, but as my company grew and evolved I became responsible, not only to myself, my children, their families and my schools, but my staff’s livelihood as well.
It’s a huge responsibility to put on big productions for children and their families, particularly in some of the schools we serve. After all, this is LA, expectations are high. For many of my children, especially my young ones, it’s their first show. I believe that it’s our job to make each production magical, with the best direction, most beautiful costumes, performances and sets we can provide.
Throughout the years my company has grown and evolved. We’ve expanded, not only in the areas we serve, the number of schools and camps we offer, but have added adult productions, a Company, and are opening a management company this Summer.
There’s a lot to manage, with staffing, schedules, students and schools. I am more convinced than ever that my father was right, and I should have majored in business, rather than insisting on my very useful degree in voice performance. Yet even on my worst day, when I am completely overwhelmed with something or other, all I have to do is see the joy on my student’s faces to realize what a gift it is that I’m able to do what I love for a living. The fact that MTLA has been able to share the transformative power of the arts to so many, just makes me that more inspired to share it further. I particularly see the need in schools and communities where the arts funding has been cut. It’s definitely a dream of mine to expand further to share it there, and then, who knows?
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There are always struggles. I learned how to run my business on the job. My staff is comprised of working artists. They are actors, choreographers and directors, who, because they are really talented, get hired regularly. My staff get offered Broadway Shows, directing and acting jobs while we’re in production, and I’ve learned not to panic. I always have a strong team in place to manage such issues. We have teams of two-four artists working on each production, so that there is always consistency for our performers. This way, if one person leaves temporarily for a job, the others step in, so the production and most importantly the actors don’t suffer.
I have learned to be stronger. When I first started, I took everything personally. I still do to a degree, but that’s not productive. Schools, clients, heads of schools or programming can and will change. That’s life. The important thing is to keep going, and not lose faith. Every loss or gain teaches me something important. I’ve learned to look honestly at each situation for the opportunity to grow. There’s always a way to expand and improve as teachers, artists, a company, and most especially for me as its founder and leader. The older I get, the more I can see what I have to learn.
Probably the biggest lesson has been in accepting responsibility for all of it. Since it’s my company, ultimately the buck stops with me. If something goes right, or wrong, clients are happy or not, It’s the culture I create or destroy that makes us successful.
Musical Theater Los Angeles – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We run after school and in school enrichment programs in musical theater and the arts in both public and private schools. We also run programs in different theaters, and dance studios around the Los Angeles area, including the valleys, Pasadena, Manhattan Beach and Malibu. We specialize in Musical Theater and Dance, as well as acting. We are probably best known for our Production classes and Summer Camps. We put on full musical productions, complete with costumes and sets at many of the finest schools and theaters in Los Angeles.
I am proud of the amazing support we have gotten as a company not only from our clients, and schools, but also that we are getting noticed and acknowledged for the level of the training we provide by our peer community as well. I am grateful for the recognition we’ve received in the articles written about us in Backstage (“Musical Theater Los Angeles turns kids into pros!”), and that for the past two years Musical Theater Los Angeles has been invited to perform The Opening Number and this year both the Opening and Closing numbers for The Motif Awards at The Walt Disney Concert Hall.
I’m most proud that every year one or two of my former students have wanted to come back to work with me during the summer during our summer camps and intensives. It’s really sweet to work with them again as the artists they have grown into.
I wouldn’t know what sets us apart from the others, because I don’t put my energy into thinking about that. What I know is that at Musical Theater Los Angeles we are fully committed to watching our artists grow and develop to their fullest potential.
I believe to my core that my team is the best at what they do, because they love what they do heart and soul and have the training, talent and discipline to match. That kind of passion and commitment can’t help but be contagious, and reflect in the joy that our performers of every age experience, as well as in the work that we do. The work becomes play. That’s the magic!
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I constantly grapple with this one. Most people define success monetarily. Working in the arts, I find that monetary success is not as important as developing artistically and being a source of inspiration and opportunity in our various communities. We often offer programs at a reduced cost or gratis to students who want to participate, but can’t for financial reasons, especially if we are lucky enough to be there anyway. This is probably not something that most businesses would do, especially as we are not a non-profit. I believe it’s important to share what we do with as many people as we can.
I look at the schools we are in, the consistency of enrollment, and the opportunities we are offered and create as a marker of our performance. I lost my father this summer and it hit me quite hard. This affected my performance as a communicator and leader. I constantly strive to be unflappable, and my company to be bullet-proof.
Perhaps the next step would be for me to have someone come into the business who has the ability to help me grow my brand and company nationally and internationally? I dream that someday Musical Theater Los Angeles or New York will be able to touch the lives of all the artists and performers in training who are looking for a place to develop their craft, and to be able to provide them the best costumes, sets and instructors wherever they are, no matter their ability to pay. To know that I could do that, and keep the lights on, and pay my staff. That would mean I was successful.
- One Week Musical Theater Summer Camp (Performance at the end of each week) $395 We’d love to offer a discount to Voyage LA readers on our one week and three week Summer Camps in our West LA location!
- Three Week Summer Camp Package (Does not have to be done consecutively,) $895
- Address: Musical Theater Los Angeles
580 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90024
- Website: musicaltheaterlosangeles.com
- Phone: (310) 428-4021
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: musicaltheaterlosangeles (Musical Theater Los Angeles)
- Facebook: @musicaltheaterlosangeles (Musical Theater Los Angeles)
- Twitter: @musical_theater (Musical Theater LA)
Personal Photo – Caroline Gray Photography at carolinegrayphotography.com