Owen Smith, the Palace Theatre’s new managing director, is no stranger to the Capital Region arts scene.
An Albany native, Smith has been the producing artistic director of Park Playhouse since January 2010, a position he will continue to hold along with his duties at the Palace, thanks to the two organizations’ opposite schedules — Park Playhouse’s season is focused on the summer months, while the Palace’s schedule gets busier in the fall and winter.
The new position couldn’t come at a better time for Smith, who is set to get married later in the year. Last year, Park Playhouse lost its $55,000 Albany City Arts Grant, prompting staff pay cuts, and Smith was forced to find part-time work to make ends meet.
“We were losing that seed money that allowed us to have a full-time administrator for the year,” Smith said. “I was doing whatever I needed to do to make financial things work, and you know, I’m getting married this year, so I was thinking, geez, I really want to figure out a way of not running out of town in order to be making ends meet.”
Smith’s hiring at the Palace came at the request of Albany mayor Gerald Jennings and board members at both the Palace and Park Playhouse. With the two organizations’ opposite schedules, and the reorganization of staff at the Palace this summer that led to Holly Brown becoming the theater’s interim executive director, it made sense to have Smith on board at the Palace to help out at shows.
“With the previous executive director leaving and me stepping into this role, that left a void in our staffing,” Brown said. “Knowing the success Owen had at Park Playhouse and what his skill set is, we started to explore the opportunity of having him come on board here in a role that would play a significant part in the Palace’s future.”
Brown said the Palace is hoping to increase its programming to eventually reach 150 music, theater, film, dance, comedy and other arts events per year. With Smith on board, the venue is one step closer to accomplishing that goal.
“The great thing about having somebody like Owen in that role is that it allows us to — he and I kind of divide and conquer what has to be done here at the Palace,” Brown said. “Our goal is to increase the number of event nights we have in the building, and in order to do that, work had to be done as far as streamlining the back-of-house and front-of-house communications.”
So far, Smith has been at the Palace full time for three weeks, working with backstage crew, concessions management and security to help increase communication and make show nights flow more smoothly.
“Even right away, I took a look at things and started to develop a schedule of weekly breakout meetings with the development and production departments,” Smith said. “We take an hour out of the day to talk about previous shows, talk about what works and what doesn’t, and details in terms of advancing — making sure everything is on point looking forward to the following week’s shows.”
Smith hopes to continue bringing eclectic shows to the theater in order to draw more diverse audiences — he mentioned wanting to increase comedy offerings such as Gabriel Iglesias, who was at the Palace on Sept. 28.
“The goal is just to get the broadest possible network of shows and promoters interested in doing business with us, and it goes back to that initial piece that I’m working on,” Smith said. “[We want to] get them in the door and have it be a good thing, have as positive an experience as they can have so we can get them back. We’re in the keeping business as much as the building business, and word travels fast.”