Christina Routhier of SCAD Theaters and Festivals: “Backup Plan”

Backup Plan — What is your backup plan if your guest’s connection is lost during the event or if there is a technical error? If you are hosting an event where attendees can chat-in questions, make sure you have some backup questions ready in case there aren’t many questions submitted. Always know your Plan B and C, […]

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Backup Plan — What is your backup plan if your guest’s connection is lost during the event or if there is a technical error? If you are hosting an event where attendees can chat-in questions, make sure you have some backup questions ready in case there aren’t many questions submitted. Always know your Plan B and C, because you never know what may happen!

As a part of our series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Routhier.

Christina Routhier is the executive director of SCAD Theaters and Festivals, which includes the SCAD Film Festival, SCAD aTVfest, Lucas Theatre for the Arts and the Trustees Theater. Routhier specializes in programming, managing and executing large-scale film and television festivals and live theater productions.

Routhier has programmed and managed the world-class SCAD Film Festival in Savannah, Georgia for more than 20 years and created the SCAD aTVfest at SCAD’s Atlanta location in 2010. She is passionate about bringing inspiring, creative and innovative content to people all over the world.

Routhier holds a Master of Arts degree in art administration from SCAD and resides in Savannah.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was lucky enough to grow up in beautiful Savannah, Ga., on one of the outer islands called Burnside Island. Growing up in Savannah was wonderful; we have the beach, boating, beautiful historic downtown, the arts and so much more. My dad owned a sheet metal fabrication company, and my mother worked for Georgia Ports Authority, one of the largest ports on the East Coast. My mother also was (and still is) a painter and attended SCAD, so art has always played a large role in my life. I am lucky that the majority of my extended family lives here and we are all extremely close. Growing up, my extended family owned a number of legendary restaurants and inns in historic downtown, so we are all fully ingrained into the fabric of the city.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

SCAD had always been a dream place to work for me, especially after seeing my mother attend SCAD and experiencing firsthand what SCAD has done for the city of Savannah and the local economy. They truly changed Savannah and made it into what it is today, a thriving arts community and the largest art and design university in the United States.

I started working for SCAD 21 years ago at the historic 1946 Trustees Theater as the marketing and events coordinator for the SCAD-owned theater. From there, my love for all things theater, film, TV and performance grew, and I went on to receive my Master of Arts degree in art administration from SCAD. As the university grew, my knowledge, experience and my love of the arts grew. I was constantly learning from top artists and designers, and of course my mentor, SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace. It was and still is magical. I am truly blessed to manage two historic theaters in Savannah, along with two world-class festivals, the SCAD Film Festival and SCAD aTVfest. I am truly honored to have been given such a life-changing opportunity. I love interacting with our students, helping them develop their skills, and just being around their creative energy. I have had so many students who have worked for me grow into the most amazing artists, actors and designers. I am so proud. I wouldn’t trade my career for anything!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know if I have any funny experiences I could share without divulging too much, but I can say that I have had a lot of fun! When I started to work at SCAD, it was just starting to grow exponentially, so everyone in every department worked together on all major events. We were all eager to work hard because we knew we were building something amazing and life changing for future artists. I learned that all of the hard work, long hours and dedication were worth it in the end, and if you believe in what you are doing, you will be rewarded tenfold.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

My favorite novels are The Awakening, by Kate Chopin and Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. These novels had such a significant impact in my life for many reasons. Both are considered masterpieces in early feministic literature and feature such strong-willed, complex women struggling against the constraints of their era and circumstances. I am always drawn to strong, bold women and I hope that a little bit of that comes out in me, too.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Ha! Well, the first one to come to mind is “Not everyone is going to like you, that is life.” That is something my Dad has told me many times and it is definitely something I struggle with as I always want everyone to like me! Also, “happy to ask.” That is from one of my best friends and amazing publicist, Steven Wilson, owner of Scenario PR. We are always shooting for the stars when programming our festivals together, and I have learned that you never know if you don’t ask. Put yourself out there. People may surprise you!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing events in general?

My favorite place to be is behind the scenes! I am not a person who wants to be in the limelight. I thrive in the details and preparation. I have 21 years of experience managing, creating and programming for SCAD’s two major theaters, the Trustees Theater and the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, and of course our festivals, the SCAD Film Festival and SCAD aTVfest.

I have programmed and executed major indoor and outdoor concerts, film premieres, award ceremonies, plays, lectures, huge film festivals, television festivals, art installations, dance productions, and now a TON of live virtual events! There is nothing more fulfilling or satisfying than seeing the joy on someone’s face after an event. That is the magic.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience organizing live virtual events? Can you share any interesting stories about them?

I have learned so much in the past year about virtual events! I think everyone in the world started on Zoom. It really changed the landscape of remote working and allowed us to keep moving and finding new and creative ways to reach our students and patrons. At the beginning of the pandemic, President Wallace wanted to ensure that our students were still getting the exact same access, if not more, to learn and engage with high-level artists and designers. We started a virtual series called Guests & Gusto that brings together creators and innovators in art and design. We did our first virtual event in March 2020, the same month as the shutdown. Since then, we have hosted virtual conversations and workshops with designers such as fashion designer and SCAD graduate Christopher John Rogers, interior designer Nate Berkus, fashion icon Prabal Gurung to award-winning actors such as Jeremy Irons, Aldis Hodge and Samantha Morton.

Our first large-scale multi-day event was the SCAD Film Festival in late October. We screened more than 154 films (many with live Q&A discussions), 11 award presentations, seven live “In Conversations” and 22 panels and workshops. We hosted live “In Conversations” and award presentations with honorees such as Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Crystal, Rachel Brosnahan, Ethan Hawke, Jennifer Hudson, Millie Bobby Brown, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Delroy Lindo, Glen Keane and Yahya Abdul-Matten II. I can definitely say that I learned a lot during this festival about live virtual productions! We had attendees from all 50 states and over 92 countries tune in. The potential reach of a virtual event is astounding.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job creating live virtual events? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I would have to say SCAD! Under the direction of our president, Paula Wallace, it was imperative to her that we pivot to the virtual world seamlessly. We spent the beginning of the pandemic researching and testing virtual platforms, building box office integrations, developing new websites, along with finding new and creative ways to reach our students and the community at large.

SCAD is always on the cutting edge of art and design, and the pandemic only made us become more creative! Faculty members, staff members and students were all called upon to develop and embrace new ways of engaging and working together in the virtual world. Zoom was only the first step! SCAD not only pivoted to the virtual teaching environment, but also created all virtual film festivals, TV festivals, art exhibits, lecture series, and class visits with award-winning artists and designers.

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to run a live virtual event? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Always do a tech check in advance. Always. Does your camera work? Can you hear each other? What does your background look like? Is your dishwasher on? Your internet speed is also a big factor in the quality of your image and connection. That is one thing that we can’t control on the other end, but if we know in advance, we can send a hot spot to help mitigate the delays. Live is always scary because anything can happen, but hopefully you have tested in advance so you can feel somewhat ready.

Which virtual platform have you found to be most effective to be able to bring everyone together virtually?

We use three different platforms, depending on the event. For our day-to-day teaching and meetings we use Zoom. For our film or episode screenings, we use Cinesend, and for our high-level conversations and festival Q&A sessions we utilize a system called Perigon. Perigon allows us to design the skin with branding and information about the event along with a chat function for guests to ask questions virtually and interact with one another. We call it fancy Zoom!

Are there any essential tools or software that you think an event organizer needs to know about?

I still think that Zoom is the best day-to-day virtual system out there. If you can pay for the additional licensing, then you get extra security and unlimited time. I have been on many different Zoom-like platforms, and I can say that nothing else really compares in regard to ease of use and consistency.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. An in-person event can have a certain electric energy. How do you create an engaging and memorable event when everyone is separated and in their own homes?

We will never be able to recreate the magic and electricity of a live event. This much I know is true, but we can create ways for our attendees to feel engaged. First and foremost, the person who is moderating or giving the lecture/address needs to be engaging and lively. An engaging moderator can make the audience feel like they are in the room with the guests.

Second, if you can provide a way for attendees to ask questions live; that is always a bonus. Depending on the event, we will allow our students to be on the screen with the guest and ask their questions live.

Finally, if you are not able to allow for live questions, ask attendees to submit questions in advance or through the chat function, if available. Take the time to call out the person’s name when asking the question. Details like that go a long way.

What are the “Five Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Practice Practice Practice! — My number-one bit of advice would be to learn your virtual platform backwards and forwards. Start by connecting with your friends and family and hosting practice events.
  2. Internet Connection — Unfortunately, this is one thing you are not always able to control, but it has a big impact on the quality of your event. A reliable internet connection can make or break your event.
  3. Tech Test — Always do a tech test before your event, at least one hour in advance. Make sure to always have your guest’s cellphone number in case you get disconnected, and send along in advance step-by-step instructions on how to log on. Your guest may not have the same knowledge as you!
  4. Background — How does your background look? Is your lighting too dark? Are you able to add a virtual background? What about noise? Can you hear appliances, children, pets? Move around your house/office, and get the best lighting and background. Make sure you raise your camera to meet your eye level for an optimal image.
  5. Backup Plan — What is your backup plan if your guest’s connection is lost during the event or if there is a technical error? If you are hosting an event where attendees can chat-in questions, make sure you have some backup questions ready in case there aren’t many questions submitted. Always know your Plan B and C, because you never know what may happen!

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a live virtual event that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Dive into Zoom and get your feet wet. Connect with your friends and family and host practice sessions. Make sure you know your system’s limitations. You may have a great idea, but it isn’t possible in the virtual world. Test different backgrounds, learn how to record and set up your camera feed.

I also recommend setting up your event to require registration. That way you can know in advance how many people “may” be attending your event and then structure your marketing/advertising efforts around those numbers.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I know for certain that my purpose in life is to bring joy and life-changing experiences to people through the arts. This is especially important to me now with the pandemic and knowing that people do not have access to the arts in the same way as before. I have found that artists have been very open and gracious to being a part of virtual conversations and events. You just have to ask!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

That is a hard question! I feel lucky to have met so many amazing artists, entertainers, and designers over the years through SCAD. At this time, I would be overjoyed to have breakfast or lunch with my girlfriends. I miss them.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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