GoAbroad Interview

Ben Abbott - Marketing & Programs Coordinator

Though Performing Arts Abroad’s Marketing and Programs Coordinator, Ben is an actor and playwright at heart! He hails from San Luis Obispo, California, and trained at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) and graduated with honors from UC Berkeley with a BA in Theater and Performance Studies. Ben has performed professionally around the country in Shakespeare festivals, children’s theater, and regional repertory theaters. Ben was drawn to work for Performing Arts Abroad because it integrated his two passions, travel and performing arts, so he thoroughly enjoys being able to match new participants with programs that perfectly match their interests too.

Eating a Berliner in Berlin

Ben eating a Berliner in Berlin!

You’re an actor and playwright, how exactly did you become connected to Performing Arts Abroad (PAA)?

The world of Theatre is very small and very tangled. I got connected to PAA through Director Reynolds Whalen while our wives were going to school together at Indiana University. They were the two Costume Design MFA students in their year, so we were all very close.  Reynolds and I have been good friends from the start (the joke has always been that we look unnervingly similar. One year for Halloween we dressed up as twins and I would take his place in a class about 10 minutes in. When he would walk back in, the double takes were hilarious.) Anyway, Reynolds was in need of an intern who had experience in both performing arts and living abroad, and I was available to work a day job.  We already knew we worked well together, and I’m still here with an actual title now, so I guess we were right.

What does your day-to-day look like as PAA’s Marketing and Program Coordinator?

Sometimes it involves traveling to college campuses or theatre companies to pitch PAA to faculty, students, and artists, but the majority of my time is spent online. In addition to coordinating marketing specials and campaigns I’m also a program advisor, so I spend a lot of time talking to potential applicants, answering questions, and helping them find the program that best fits their needs and interests. Mostly I just want everyone to apply! I know it’s just the best thing they can do, and I just have to convince them to take the plunge and do it! I also run PAA’s social media channels, which means I spend a slightly embarrassing amount of time online finding funny and cool things to post on Facebook, etc. It’s all in service of my greater responsibility, which is essentially to help convey the vibe of what PAA is, what it stands for, and what kind of people work for it. Basically, my job is to help express our “brand.”

What sets PAA’s programs apart from others? 

The thing that sets us apart is our complete focus on the performing arts. Our programs are personalized and customized to make sure they’re right for the participant, and I don’t know another company that works so hard to create training opportunities and intensives for performing artists. I think one of the biggest advantages we have is that everyone who works for PAA is also a performing artist. So at every level—from the designing of the programs to helping you pick the right one--you’ve got people who understand what you want and need because we’re in the same field, and we were in the same classes you’re taking. This is especially useful because all of our programs are customized to your specific needs. It helps when the person doing the customizing has been in your shoes.

What types of applicants are the best fit for a PAA program?

In my acting conservatory, we were trained to say “yes, and!” That more than anything is what it takes—on stage and abroad. To do these programs you’ve got to be passionate about your art, and you’ve got to have that desire to launch out into the world to share it. Applicants also need to be not just open, but hungry to expand their horizons and worldviews. This experience is going to change them as artists, and they’ve got to be ready and excited to embrace that.

In your role, how do you help prepare PAA participants for their experiences abroad?

Our applicants are impressively self-selecting. I am constantly impressed by the people we send on our programs. I’m not involved with the pre-departure orientation or that kind of thing, but my job is to help people find the program that’s the best fit for them, which in my opinion is more than half the battle. 

You lived in Argentina for two years, do you foresee any new PAA programs focused on that area?

I hope so! I have to admit that when we added a program in Brazil I thought, “Dang!  So close!” Argentina isn’t like anywhere else in the region, and it has an arts culture that will surprise you. I know it’s on the radar, but it’s an incredibly long and involved process to add a new country and program. We have extremely high standards for people we partner with and it takes time to build a relationship and program that’s up to snuff, so I just have to be patient.  But seriously, can you imagine a Tango internship in Buenos Aires? When it happens it will be amazing.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your role with PAA?

I think it’s the faces of people I talk to when it actually dawns on them how perfect we are for them. It’s almost like they can’t believe we actually exist, but when they really understand the possibilities it’s an infectious giddiness.