Staff Spotlight: Colleen Prossner - Catherine Cummings Theatre Operations Manager

 

How long have you been at Cazenovia College?

Twenty years! I started in September of 2001.

 

How did you come to work in such a unique position?

My former boss, Sue Berger, saw me directing and producing shows, including Godspell, at St. James Church in Cazenovia. She asked me to interview for the job. I had taken a few years off before that to have my family, so I was able to negotiate it as part-time work and it’s still a part-time role. I was thrilled when the opportunity came my way and can’t thank Sue enough for bringing me into the Cazenovia College family!

 

What other kinds of work have you done?

After obtaining a communications degree from Niagara University, I was the communications director for the Greater Syracuse Association of Realtors for eight years. Before that, I sold advertising for what was then Time Warner Cable.

 

What kinds of activities comprise your typical workdays?

I direct and produce shows and run the children’s theater workshop in the summer. I’ve been the planner and producer of Jazz-N-Caz, a series of jazz music events, for 20 years. I manage theatre rentals, book events, and interact with groups regarding their weddings, dance and piano recitals, and special events. I also plan musical shows, lectures, organize the facility for academic uses, and oversee the physical space.

 

What’s your approach to this role?

Perhaps the best way to say it is that I find a need for what’s out there of interest. I ask, ‘What do people want to see and what can my budget afford?’ For many years, that has included a concert series and summer programming for kids. It has depended on what the community seemed to need and want and how it was received. We’d run programs for a while and if something ended up being fiscally do-able, we’d continue it. So, it’s been based on audience interests, activities that might be trending, things people would enjoy. I get suggestions and ideas through local boards I sit on and through the College’s collaborations with other venues in town, such as the library, CACDA, CNY Arts, and Cazenovia Arts Board. We have good connections with those groups.

Now, that we’re in this pandemic, it’s difficult to plan things, but I’m looking forward to Spring and perhaps doing a tribute band series.

 

What aspect of managing the theatre do you enjoy most?

It’s the connection with people. The greatest part is when you see an audience fill up the house, all the community members there who come to enjoy live music, live theatre, or whatever it might be at our beautiful, century-old theatre. You can do all the planning, negotiate the contracts, seek the musicians, fine tune the nuts and bolts, haul in the drum kit and the sound system…but there’s nothing like it when you see the seats filled and see the enjoyment in people’s eyes. That fills me and that moves me!

 

Do you have a favorite event or time of year here at the college?

Yes, two categories. With kids, it’s the Cazenovia College Kids Theatre Camp workshop that I’ve been doing for 20 years. There’s nothing better than working with 7- to 11- year-olds; they’re so enthusiastic and so much fun. I love seeing the connection of 20 kids who didn’t know each other at the start of the program singing, dancing, and making plans to be together! A lot of these kids are still my friends to this day and they still call me Miss Colleen, even though they’re 25 years old now.

The other is Jazz-N-Caz. That’s my baby, too. It’s such a different caliber of show, with incredible musicians who are brought in from New York or around the world. To have these people grace our stage is completely humbling. I’m always in awe when I see these musicians present at our theatre and in our community. There’s nothing like it when the music is going full tilt and there’s a full house.

I am truly blessed to be able to have the job that I have and to be able to do what I do, because to me, it’s not a job, it’s something I absolutely love to do!

 

What may others not know or recognize about you personally?

I’m from a family of six kids, all of us are now working in the arts. I was brought up in a very arts-conscious, creative family. In our house, we listened to Benny Goodman and the opera. My parents made us all take two instruments; I play clarinet and piano. We all had to practice piano for a half-hour every night. I was first chair and played an E-flat clarinet. We all took dance lessons, too, and most people know I can sing. I went to conference all-state in high school for voice. I love jazz. I can sing anything, but I gear more to jazz music.

I’m from Oneida and I now live in Manlius. My mother and father were involved in the arts for years. They ran a dinner theater in Canastota; my mother did it for 37 years. She just finished a season where she brought 600 people through the doors over several weekends, and she’s now 87! As kids, we all helped backstage at the shows, ironing costumes and so forth, so the theatre is in our blood.