Jess Gill '16 manages the big picture at Lincoln Center
By Anna-Maria Goossens | Wednesday, February 15, 2023
By Anna-Maria Goossens
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
On the Lincoln Center home page, there’s a design of a wheel with Lincoln Center as the middle, and 10 organizations radiating out as spokes.
That image serves as a short-hand for what Jess Gill ’16 does for the center. Over nearly ten years in production management, she has helped execute and plan the logistics for events of all kinds: music, dance, spoken word, outdoor movie screenings. She has managed a private corporate event for Moët-Chandon, which included an appearance by Mariah Carey and the installation of a 40-foot outdoor sculpture. She’s helped mount swing and jazz music festivals. She’s put together a family-day hang-out with Kermit the Frog. (“I don't care how many times you see him — when you see that green frog in person, it's awesome!”)
As of a month ago, she’s stepped into a leadership role as the Associate Director, Event Production, which means she’s gone from working event by event to managing the big picture for all of Lincoln Center.
It’s the latest step in an affiliation with Lincoln Center that began when Gill became a student intern in the summer of 2014, and part of a journey that began when she came to UMass Amherst to major in theater.
“It's all a process, you know,” she said, reflecting on that journey. “I didn't get here yesterday. This is almost 10 years in the making — which is scary to say now out loud.”
Finding Stage Management at UMass Theater
Gill, who had a background in dance and performance, chose UMass because, “I didn't have to pick a track. When I was applying to schools, a lot of the theater programs wanted you to declare right away. But you don't know what you want until you experience a lot of things.”
Once at UMass, a friend who was on the Casanova stage management team asked her if she was interested in being an assistant stage manager. “He was like, ‘Hey, you're really organized, you’re always on top of things. Would you be interested in trying this?’ And it turns out I was pretty good at it,” Gill said, cheerfully admitting to being a “type A” personality who thrives on tackling logistics challenges.
Gill has fond memories of many instructors in the department. Production Manager Julie Fife, who teaches stage management, quickly became her mentor.
“She was instrumental. Her door was always open. Plus, with all of her history and her resume and her background (as a stage manager for professional theater), she always had an answer or a story for anything, which was very comforting,” Gill said. Fife talked her through the panic as she was about to call her first big show, The Merchant of Venice, helmed by renowned director Tony Simotes. Gill also recalls the jubilation of successfully calling the sequence set to Madonna’s Vogue that opened Marie Antoinette, when it finally felt like the whole show had come together. “Everyone was super excited. The cast was excited. All the designers were excited.”
Gill also worked in the electrics shop, including a stint as master electrician for Peter Pan, and did a bit of carpentry and a smidge of sound design as part of Theater 110, the one-credit Backstage Practicum course.
She applied to a plethora of internships for the summer between her sophomore and junior year and landed the one at Lincoln Center.
“At the time we had 2 festivals, called Midsummer Night Swing and Lincoln Center Out of Doors. It involved learning a lot about the festival circuit and live events, which is sort of a stark contrast to theater,” she said. “The biggest shift, I would say is, you have to think on your feet a lot more than with a show that you've rehearsed, where you sort of know what's coming.”
With live shows, she said, “Despite all of your prep, despite all of your due diligence, you know once that artists hit the stage it's their show now, and you’ve just got to roll with it and make the best of any situation that they come up with.”
That internship led to summer job offers for 2 years. Once graduated, Gill freelanced as a production assistant, electrician, stage manager, primarily in Off Broadway theaters as well as in event spaces like the Barclay Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music (she’s a proud member of IATSE Local 4), while shifting back to Lincoln Center for its various summer series.
Among the early high-water marks was a gig running one of the lights for an Ed Sheeran show, which she remembers as an “I’ve made it” moment.
When the pandemic hit, much of the industry shut down, but Gill worked some remote jobs and crewed the Video Music Awards which were presented in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Lincoln Center experienced a fair bit of turnover in 2021, and that opened an opportunity for Gill to step into a full-time position as a production manager.
“I was really lucky; the team of people that was here at the time was fantastic. They were easily some of the smartest people I've ever worked with and they were really inviting to the younger generation,” she said.
Gill said that she and her co-workers at Lincoln Center have used the upheaval of the pandemic to rethink traditional practices and look at ways to improve work-life balance, and be more welcoming. “If you're not feeling great, you're not going to be your best self. You're not going to present yourself or your company well,” she pointed out.
After a year in the production management position, the Associate Director slot opened up and Gill was offered the position. While her work still includes a lot of hands-on event management, she’s now also managing teams who are running their own events.
She’s been on hand for some impressive and moving moments during her time at Lincoln Center like the ones cited earlier, and noted one that took on additional significance recently: “It actually means more now, since David Crosby just passed away. He closed out what would become our final season of Lincoln Center Out of Doors prior to the pandemic and that was just really special show. Working with seasoned touring musicians like that at a point in my career when I was still arguably very young was really cool, and I so appreciated his touring team; they were incredibly respectful.”
Asked what advice she’d give to a student starting out, Gill offers something that motivated and shaped her own experience: “Go in with an open mind. Try everything even if you're not a 100% sure that's what you want. Say yes to as much as you can, within reason.”