I knew as I conceptualized content for the January 2019 edition of Friday With Joan that I wanted to include the voice of Charlotte St. Martin, a woman I’ve known for many years.

She is currently president of The Broadway League, Inc., the trade association representing commercial theatre in New York City and around the United States and whose members are producers, theatre owners and presenters of Broadway in 140 cities in the U.S. and in 200 venues.

Charlotte previously spent more than 35 years in the hotel business. She began at the Fairmont Hotels in Dallas in the preopening stages as a project coordinator for opening parties and moved to sales and catering manager.

She moved on to the (then Loews) Anatole Hotel as the first employee, as director of sales and marketing, and then moved through the ranks of Loews Hotels with positions that included regional vice president of sales and marketing, president and CEO of the Loews Anatole Hotel, and finally EVP of Loews Hotels in marketing and operations. She also took an 18-month leave of absence from Loews to be president of the Dallas CVB.

Following are my questions and Charlotte’s responses, edited slightly in hopes I’ve not misquoted her.

Joan Eisenstodt: In your experience, what has changed in how meetings—including those in the arts—are set and delivered now versus years ago? 

Charlotte St. Martin: Theatre is, at its best, an escape from the reality of whatever is going on in your life. It’s why during times of recession, depression and turmoil, it is one of the only forms of entertainment that grows.

Meetings are usually meant to either share information/educate the meeting participant or help get the engagement of the audience to create change. This is where theatre can make a difference in meetings, especially if the purpose of the meeting is to break down barriers to create engagement of the participants.

While at Loews, I almost always used theatre in some way to engage the participants. Mostly I used it for Loews meetings and events, for internal and corporate meetings, and for events where we were entertaining our customers or potential customers. Even when I chaired the CLC (now EIC) Hall of Leaders 10th anniversary event, I used a full cast of Broadway performers to introduce the various segments of the evening.

While I no longer attend meetings through organizations like MPI, PCMA or ASAE, I know that they can all be made better by using some of the techniques of “bringing the audience in.”

I don’t see much, if any change, in the meetings that I attend in NYC, so I am not sure it has changed.

Joan: You mentioned in our initial correspondence about this topic that you used elements of theatre when you worked for Loews. Tell us more, please, so that others can learn and adapt from your experiences!

Charlotte: As noted, I did use theatre for any event we did, whether a breakfast for 25 or an event for 2,500 (as we created a circus for PCMA’s annual meeting in Dallas at the Anatole), or for ASAE customer events where we used the Loews salespeople worked into the entertainment with the professionals. The customers loved it and we often pulled a customer or two into the act as well. It put everyone in the same space.

I also infused the same sort of entertainment in ALHI [Associated Luxury Hotels International] conferences with its members, and into ASAE’s big conference in Dallas when I was president of the Dallas CVB.

Again, by combining the members and participants with the professionals, everyone becomes part of the meeting/event and therefore connects with it.

Joan: In what ways can groups/meeting planners help their organizations bring elements that cause the “goosebumps” that theatre attendance brings to their meetings and help hotels and convention centers get off their tushes to help us make meetings more meaningful?

Charlotte: I think the biggest mistake event planners make is that they don’t think about how they would want the information delivered. How would they feel receiving the information? Once they do that, they will mix it up.

I just held my organization’s annual meeting with about 250 of our members. First, we did it in a theatre. This meeting used to be held in a ballroom and there would just be 10-12 speakers. We had 20 speakers in 1 hour and 45 minutes. We mixed up the presentations, by the members, not the staff, by creating panels—just speakers; people who had experienced the programming talking about the impact to them. All of the presentations were interspersed with pictures, short videos, etc. The Finance Report was interspersed with a clip from The Tonys, a Viva Broadway concert, etc. No one left early! It was entertaining and informative.

Joan: What is it about theatre that most energizes you, personally?

Charlotte: Both the escape and the opportunity to hear new ideas, see new ways of presenting the same material. For example, I’ve seen A View From the Bridge about five times in the last 15 years. Each had a different interpretation with different actors, sets, costumes. Each made me question the material and think.

Recently, I went to the opening night for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Initially I thought [about this adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird], “How relevant could this be 60 years later?”

Well, it was enormously relevant. We are facing the same issues we faced then. Sure, the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t wear hoods anymore, but those radicals still exist all over the country. All night I was questioning my own prejudice (or lack thereof) and how I have changed from that young woman who saw the film starring Gregory Peck years ago in Dallas, versus the same woman sitting in NYC today.

Final Words From Joan: A personal note of gratitude to Charlotte St. Martin for still being willing to connect these many years after she left the hotel industry.

And a secret: Those of us who had the privilege of working with and knowing Charlotte through industry activity are especially excited when watching The Tony’s to have a “Charlotte sighting” as she watches in the audience!

Related Reading From the January 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

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