This week’s installment of Women in the Arts takes us behind-the-scenes into the life of a local arts administrator.
Danielle Varner has been with the Springer Opera House for more than 20 years, and has done everything from working in the box office to serving as Managing Director.
Read on to learn about her career and impact working for an organization she so dearly loves.
Q: How did you find yourself in your current role?
A: Well, the first time I ever went to the Springer was for a dance recital. I danced for Gail Humphreys. I was five years old and when I walked into this building, I thought it was a palace. I was just enamored by everything I saw.
Fast forward to junior high school, and I was at a time in my life where I needed to find something that I loved. Something where I felt I belonged. I found theater.
Q: Who was influential in that time for you?
A: I had the same drama teacher throughout junior high and high school. I was at Russell County High School and her name was Jane Collins. She was also involved in the Springer. In high school, she would bring us all into town to usher at the Springer. It was pre-renovation. I didn't graduate until '97, so it was before the renovation. I loved it so much, and my love of this building just stayed with me.
Q: This is fascinating. I didn't know your relationship with the Springer went that far back.
A: I'd imagine a lot of people don't know that! But the Springer is where I really got the theater bug. I was heavily involved in theatre and came to the Springer often throughout high school. Then, I got a scholarship for drama to Southern Union and did a lot of shows there as well.
Q: What did you do after you graduated?
A: I came back to Columbus and worked in radio for a little while. I was at Rock 103 for about a year and a half. Then, my cousin was working at the Springer, and knew I wanted to get involved again. So, I auditioned for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I was cast in that and had such a fun time. I absolutely loved the entire experience. Right after the show closed, I was notified a job opening had come available and I applied. I got the position as the Assistant Box Office Manager. This would have been in 2001.
Q: How was your experience in that job?
A: Oh, I loved being in the box office. I loved meeting the patrons, listening to them talk about their lives, their grandchildren, this show, that show, why they loved their seats, what they wanted to see next at the Springer. I really loved getting to know them personally. Within six months, I was promoted to Box Office Manager, and was in that position for eight or nine years.
Q: What happened next?
A: Paul (Pierce) created a new position called Director of Audience Development, and he promoted me to that role where I focused on group sales. That's when social media had just started out, so I was helping our team learn everything we could about it. Mainly though, I really headed up our group sales initiative. We got people from all over the place to come to the Springer. Suddenly, there were people traveling here from Newnan, and as far as North Carolina and Tennessee coming to see Springer shows.
I was in that position for three or four years, and then I was promoted to Director of Development.
Q: What was that transition like for you?
Well, honestly, I think my time in the box office prepared me for every other position I've had because I got to know our donors. I got to know our board. I got to know our sponsors. So in the development office, I was set up for success because I already knew all of the people I'd be working with every day.
I was in development for a few years before I was promoted to the Managing Director. So I've come through several different positions here over the past 20 years I've been here.
Q: You've also been on stage, right?
A: Yes! I've been on stage twice for Wizard of Oz. I loved it so much. The Wicked Witch of the West is probably my favorite role. The show from 2010 was crazy because I worked in the box office at that time. That was really hard because I was constantly running back and forth between the box office and backstage.
Q: What does being on stage do for you as an arts administrator?
A: Being on stage, so much happens to remind me of why I do what I do. It really drives home why I love this place, why I love what we do and the importance of our our mission. Every time I am in a show, it really puts a fire back inside of me.
Q: How was the 2021 show different from 2010 for you?
A: Well, after two years of COVID and after the flood - I mean, it's been a really tough few years for the Springer - being able to be back on that stage was so fulfilling. The love and the relationships you have with cast members is one you'll have for life. It's a family.
Our cast made me want to do my job even better and it was so rewarding to look out and see little kids' faces light up when we took the stage. The kids and their families just inspired me all over again every night.
So, that is my journey working for the Springer. I fight for this building every day. But I think my progression through the various jobs I've held here has made me be successful in every role I've been in afterward. Everything we do is so people-driven. It has to be. People are why we're here doing what we do every day.
Q: What does being a woman in the artist mean to you?
A: I'll start by saying that there is one woman that I have looked up to so much and have admired for decades... and that is Janice Biggers. Janice Biggers has done so much for the arts and historic preservation in Columbus, Georgia. I have admired her for as long as I've known her.
Being a woman in the arts means looking up to women like Janice and dot McClure and so many others who paved the way for the next generation of women to be here. I'm so grateful for them, and if I can be half the woman that Janice Biggers is? I will be doing a good job.
There was a group of those women who saved our theater. Literally saved this theater. They made it possible for other women to step forward and be leaders, and I appreciate them so much.
There are so many corporations that, for the longest time, have been focused on men. I am so thankful that because of the work of the women here before me, I get to be in a safe space at the Springer. I feel safe and supported here. I feel like I can be myself. In a lot of industries, you can't do that.
Q: You're exactly right. How has the Springer made itself a safe and supportive place to be?
A: Everyone knows me here. They know my lifestyle. They've met my wife. She is my greatest supporter of all. Everyone at the Springer knows and appreciates me for exactly who I am. About us. The Springer is my family. We're not just a business. We are a family.
This goes for not only the staff, but for our board as well. We have the best board in Columbus, Georgia. We have the best board in Georgia. We have the best board in the United States. Our board is so supportive, devoted, loyal and engaged. Not everyone can say that about their board, but we can at the Springer. Everyone involved is very supportive. In fact, there are some board members here that I owe everything to because they have helped me so much.
Q: Can you give me an example of a way your board has done this in the past?
A: Well, the first thing I did when we had the flood, was to call them. We had board members here within five minutes. They were here. Immediately. Just to be present. To be here for us. And just having them here made me feel like everything was going to be okay. The Springer Opera House is all about people. It's all about relationships and it's all about this community. Our board is a wonderful representation of that every day.
Q: I love that. Okay, so let's tie those two things together. How does being a woman in the arts play into your every day.
A: Well, I think it's important to point out that women are doing amazing things everywhere right now. Women are doing incredible things not just in the arts, but everywhere. I love to see that women are making a name for themselves. Big time. They're doing the work and they're finally being recognized for the work that they're doing. It's been a long time coming and it's about time it happened.
It's no secret that behind every successful woman or man is another woman. Women hold things together. It's what we do. And I love that the essential roles we play as women are finally being recognized.
I think it also says a lot about the men that are encouraging all of this recognition. It's a big deal to be in a safe space where women are encouraged by men. Not everywhere is there yet.
Q: Did you have other inspiring women in your life early on?
A: I was raised by a tribe of strong women. My grandmothers, my mom, my aunts, my cousin. The one thing that they taught me is always stand up for yourself, and don't ever be afraid to speak up. I've taken that with me and I do it every day. One of the things I can do best is put out a grass fire. (laughing)
Q: I believe that! Okay, so tell me about the Springer. What's next? What do you want our audience to know?
A: The Springer is ready. We're ready to come back 120%. We have never stopped. We did not let the flood stand in our way. We still found a way to put on a show. We didn't let COVID stand in our way. We built a theater outside. The most important thing to us is that we stay visible and we let the community know that we're here for them. This is their theater and we're going to do everything we can to keep going. We're not going to stop. Ever.
I'm also very excited about next season. There's something for everybody. It's a very diverse program of work, but it's very relatable because I think there's a lot of hope in next season. Our community needs that right now.
There's just something about being at the Springer to see a show. It's palpable. You can feel the energy. There is a special thing that happens in a live performance. You get energy from the actors, the actors get the energy from you, and you just... you just can't get that with a virtual performance.
We are so happy to have a hope filled season coming up, and we're thrilled to be able to have people back in this building at almost full capacity again. It's what the Springer is all about, and personally, I cannot wait to be a part of it. ◾️
Up Next at Springer Opera House:
The Color Purple
Emily Woodruff Hall
Dragons Love Tacos