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Behind the Scenes: PNB's Media Relations Manager, Gary Tucker

Gary Tucker--or "Sir Gary" as he is affectionately known around Class Act Tutu--is one of the many faces behind Pacific Northwest Ballet's success. As the media relations manager, Gary spends his days developing innovative PR campaigns, writing newsy press releases (can't forget those press releases!), and providing folks like me with stellar press photos. ;)

While Gary's many talents play a crucial role in PNB's favorable status within the dance community, his sparkling sense of humor and charming wit are the icing on the cake!

So who is the man behind the press release? How does the world of ballet--and the arts world in general--look from his perspective? We decided to go straight to the source to find out! Ladies and gentlemen, the honorable Gary Tucker... {Insert thunderous applause here}

St.GarySo how did you become the Sir Gary of PNB?

That’s only a title that you have bestowed upon me. My preferred title is ‘Lord High Peon’. Well, let’s see…how I got started at PNB. About four years ago, I was working for the Film Festival and then I wasn’t working for the Film Festival. Let’s leave it at that! {Laughs} Then I was enjoying the summer, did a couple of freelance gigs. And just when I was starting to think, “I should get a job because I’m running out of money!” my friend Ellen Walker - the Director of Marketing and Communications here at Pacific Northwest Ballet - called me. We’ve known each other for a thousand years and she called me in kind of a panic; I mean her message just sounded urgent. She said “Gary, you have to call me immediately!” Apparently their PR gal had given her two weeks’ notice and it was something like—ten days before the opening of Nutcracker! {Laughs}

 Oh my goodness…!

I told Ellen I’d help with Nutcracker and then we’ll see how it goes. You know, to see if I liked it or not. And within about a day Ellen was asking, “You’ll just take the full-time job, won’t you?” {Laughs} So once I made it through that, I thought, “If I can make it through Nutcracker, then full-time should be a breeze!” Which it hasn’t been, of course! {Laughs}

Famous last words, right?

Yeah, it was! I’ve worked for a lot of arts organizations in town doing PR but I’d never worked on a show as big as Nutcracker, in terms of both size and expectations. As a matter of fact, when they told me what their number goals for Nutcracker were, I actually laughed because I thought it was a joke. And then I realized…it wasn’t a joke! {Laughs} But it’s fun; this is a great place to work. Everyone said I’d get the hang of it and I did, so–here I am!

Would you say you thrive in a busy environment? Do you like to constantly go, go,go?

Well I would like a little slow, slow, slow once in awhile! It would be nice to catch up because you’re never on top of everything. You’re constantly distracted. You’ll say to yourself, “Today I’m going to put out the Tharp press release!” Then you get to your desk, turn on your computer and the first thing that pops up is something else you have to do, right then and there. Then someone else needs something, or a photo need comes up for a magazine, and then the next thing you know, it’s the end of the day and you haven’t even looked at that press release!

But I do like the atmosphere. I like working for arts organizations and have been working for them almost exclusively my entire career.

What brought that about? Were you into the arts like drama or theatre when you were younger?

I was totally into theatre when I was in school! I wanted to sing, I wanted to dance, I wanted to act-- even though I wasn’t a very good dancer or singer. I was an okay actor, though. I took ballet for 2 years at the University of Washington with Eve Green, as well as jazz with Edna Daigre. Okay, funny story; at the end of the term, there was a faculty dance concert. Well, I did not dance in the ballet portion; I danced in the jazz portion. And at the end of the show, someone from the ballet class came up to me and said, “Umm…you should stick with jazz.” Which was their kind way of saying, ‘You should get out of ballet!’ {Laughs}

You’re right, that’s pretty humorous! I thought you had a background in dance, judging by our previous conversations. You always sound like someone who knows the business well—not just because it’s your job.

I’m not what I would call a “dance scholar” by any stretch of the imagination, not even close! In fact, I have my little glossary of ballet terms so I can look up how to spell them. I’ll put it this way - I know enough about it that it serves me well in this position.

How did you get from there to becoming the PR guru you are today?

Please - You can’t call me a “guru”!  (You can call me a “kan-guru.”)  My first job after college was working with the city parks department putting on the Concerts in the Park series. I did this back home in Hawaii as well. Yes, I’m an island boy. :) The concert program was fun but very short-term. Then I worked for an ad agency as a receptionist, and from there I started working for a small, local theatre company [the late, great Skid Road Theatre]. Then I started working for The Egyptian Theatre just to have some additional income. I ended up working there for a long time, and it led to other film-related jobs. Fast forward (because this story could go on forever!)—I was taking a summer off from the film biz, working for the underground tours when I heard that Intiman Theatre was looking for a PR guy. I’d never worked in PR before, but at that time I was an Intiman subscriber and I thought to myself, “You know what? The Egyptian was an independent theatre and we were doing all our promotion ourselves.  I can probably sell theatre!” And from that point on, I’ve been in arts PR.  I’ve had stints at many fantastic arts organizations around town. But hopefully I’m here at PNB for good!

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get into PR and “do what you do”?

First of all, I do this because I love working for performing arts organizations. I don’t necessarily “live” to do PR. Obviously I’ve made a good career out of it, but my choice was to work in the arts: PR was just the avenue I got to take.  Everyone has to decide for themselves what they want to do.  If you want to get a job, any job, in the arts, develop more than one skill so that you’ll be the right candidate no matter what the position is that they’re hiring for.  If you want to get a job doing PR, well there are many, many opportunities out there for the right people.  (Although they might not actually pay a living wage!)  But if you want to get a job doing PR in the arts, I wouldn’t look for PR jobs with a steel manufacturer or something like that.

I would also suggest you learn how to talk on the phone, learn how to communicate clearly via e-mail (so many people do not), learn how to write a press release, and have a good attitude.

 How does your typical day begin?

I always start off my day by…listening to NPR and reading the newspaper! I read various publications so I can keep on top of everything; that’s what you have to do in this business. That and writing press releases! I do like my diet Coke and my lattes on occasion but I don’t start my day with caffeine. Shocking! {Laughs} I like to get going on my own, without additional stimulation.

Speaking of coffee, there was an article or little contest in Seattle Magazine awhile back called “Match the PNB dancer to their favorite coffee drink”. How did that come about?

Well, it was more of a quiz than a contest, because the only prize was a sense of self-satisfaction, and it was on PNB’s Facebook page.  Seattle magazine was doing a coffee issue and asked a bunch of Seattle celebrities what their drink of choice was, and they’d asked if I could get a dancer to do one. Not knowing the intimate details of our dancers’ caffeine habits already, I decided to just send the query out and see who replied. Well, I got about five responses and they were all pretty interesting, but the magazine was only going to use one. So I thought, “Why don’t I just see how many I can get, and we can turn it into a little quiz on our Facebook page!”

And then we provided a link from our Facebook page to the Seattle Magazine article online, so there was a little tie-in. And Seattle magazine was so thrilled with that, that they sent a link back to us from their site.

Wow! So that was your idea?

It was my idea, but I got lots of help implementing it from my cohorts here at PNB, particularly Judith [Austin] who manages our Facebook presence!

Any other interesting ballet-related PR stories?  

Last year when I was reading the sports section—I mean, how often would I find anything of use in the sports section?—But I was going through it and there was a little interview with Quincy Pondexter [then University of Washington basketball player; current team member of New Orleans Hornets]. And I thought to myself, “This guy sounds smart and funny, and he probably has a good sense of himself. I wonder if he’d be willing to be a guest Grandfather in Nutcracker!”

I wondered how that all came to be! How did you get him to do it?

I contacted the press department at the Huskies and they told me that, “Of all the players, he’d be the one to do it.” Quincy jumped at the idea and it was great! PNB’s Nutcracker got mentioned in so many places—including the New York Times sports section—because of Quincy. While I don’t watch sports on a regular basis, I do go through that section every day.

You literally are a fountain of wonderful ideas, aren’t you?

Well, thanks for the flattery, but they’re not always wonderful; For every good idea there are several more bad ones. For every “Yes” that you get, there’s at least three “No’s”. So, you just have to keep on persevering and don’t allow yourself to be dejected by defeat.

Don't you just love him, folks? Let's give him another round of applause, shall we? Thanks, Gary! You're the greatest!

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