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Hi, CI! is a series featuring the best team we know—the Capacity Interactive team! Today, meet Megan Helmers: a CI Consultant and passionate arts lover who has directed and/or choreographed nearly 75 shows!

How long have you been at CI?

I joined CI in January 2023, so I’ve been here a little over 15 months.

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Sibley, Iowa—a small town in northwest Iowa near the Minnesota border.

You have a B.S. in both English and Performing Arts. How What inspired you to transition into directing and choreographing different shows?

Ok, funny story—I went to college for three full years without declaring a major. One day, my advisor sat me down and told me I had to decide, so I just chose my major based on the classes I’d taken and liked the best. Not surprisingly, that ended up being a major in Performing Arts with a dual emphasis in Dance and Acting/Directing, and English (because I love reading and writing). After college, I ended up performing in a lot of community theater shows in my free time (which is, incidentally, how I met my husband). I’ve taught dance for most of my life, so that naturally led to serving as dance captain whenever I was in a show. Eventually I started choreographing and then directing as well. As of this spring I’ve directed and/or choreographed nearly 75 shows…which is truly wild to comprehend! But it’s a lot like declaring my major(s) based on the classes I liked best. This is honestly just what I love spending my free time doing.

What’s your favorite production you’ve ever directed and/or choreographed and what did you love about it? What did you learn from the experience?

I have a very special place in my heart for A Chorus Line! It’s the kind of show that resonates for anyone who grew up obsessed with dance like I did. I was nervous and excited and scared (basically I had ALL the feelings) when I was asked to direct and choreograph it in 2017. It was a big opportunity for me, but also terrifying because with such a beloved show, you don’t want to deliver anything less than your absolute best work. I cast a fantastic group of people and we all worked SO hard to make it spectacular (I’m not biased). I loved that production. Usually when I direct a show, my job is done on opening night, but I couldn’t leave this one. I came back at least a dozen times during the run of the show to watch it again and again. Fun fact: The license plate on my car is actually A5678—shout out to the A Chorus Line superfans who will get that one!

Directing and choreographing this show really taught me that in order to create an environment where everyone feels driven to put in their best work, people need to see that you as their leader are just as invested. If you are passionate, creative, dedicated, and you support and listen to your actors, they’re going to feel confident trusting your vision and guidance. Everyone working together on this production developed such a special bond; that communal, collaborative experience is why people love coming together and putting on a show. Especially with community theater, people have so many other ways they could spend their time. I always try to remember that if they are choosing to be a part of this experience, it’s my responsibility to make that experience special.

You’re currently directing and choreographing a show for this spring. How is that going?

It’s been a blast! The theater that I’m directing/choreographing at, Theatre Cedar Rapids, is a four-hour drive from where I live in Minneapolis. I’ll drive down on a Sunday morning, rehearse Sunday through Wednesday evenings, and drive home Thursday before I turn it around three days later to do it all over again. I’ve done a lot of choreographing at this theater and it’s a fabulous experience. Now getting the opportunity to direct there for the first time is so much fun! It’s also times like this when I’m especially thankful that I can truly work remotely from anywhere. 

The show I’m working on is School of Rock, so we have a kids cast (including a live, onstage band!) and an adult cast. Working with such a wide range of ages can be challenging, so all of my years moonlighting as a dance teacher have been super helpful in keeping a room full of middle schoolers engaged and excited. One of my favorite fun facts about this production is that the actor playing Dewey Finn (Jack Black’s OG role) is a former student of mine from when I coached high school musical theater in Des Moines. I have known and worked with him since he was a sophomore in high school, and now he’s starring in my show which is such a cool, full-circle moment.

You previously worked as the Director of Marketing and PR at the Des Moines Symphony. Describe your experience moving to CI as a consultant.

I’m a big CI superfan so making the move has been such a thrill! When I was a Marketing Director, I utilized CI’s whitepapers and resources all the time and even presented data from the Ticket Buyer study to my board. I also always made it a point to attend CI presentations whenever I attended arts marketing conferences. My camera roll can attest to all of the photos I’ve gathered to capture great data points and ideas from CI from various events well before I worked here.

I’ve always appreciated that in addition to being huge fans of the arts, CI’s advice was 100% data-driven. Incorporating data in decision-making can be challenging for marketers in small arts organizations, who often have stakeholders telling them “this is how we’ve always done things.” Using CI’s research and best practices had always been empowering for me as a marketer so when the opportunity arose to join the team, it felt like the perfect fit. I was able to take all the skills and knowledge I’d built up over seven years with the Symphony and use that experience to serve arts organizations across the country.

How does your background in the arts and as an arts marketer inform your work as a consultant at CI?

Coming from an arts organization, I have a lot of empathy for the magic our clients need to create with limited time and resources. I know exactly how it feels to be tasked with creating incredible content when your guest artist only has one approved photo. Now that I’m on the other side of the relationship, that experience helps me understand pain points for my clients and offer them creative, time-saving solutions.

What’s your favorite WFH hack?

I have an eight month-old puppy, and one thing that has made a big impact on my WFH experience is getting up to take her for walks in the middle of the day. When I get really focused on a project, I can easily get into a zone. Before I know it, I’ve been working for hours on end without standing up or drinking water. Daphne helps remind me to get outside and get some fresh air during the workday. (Daphne is also very popular with our team’s clients and has been known to make requested Zoom appearances!)

You help clients level up their digital strategies by identifying opportunities to reach new audiences. What’s your top recommendation for arts marketers?

Consider channels beyond Google and Meta! My clients are seeing promising results from streaming audio, TikTok, and connected TV. As audiences spend more and more time across a range of diverse platforms, arts marketers should be ready to meet them where they are. These streaming platforms offer robust reporting and the ability to target the right audience at the right time, often without a huge investment. Compared with traditional radio and TV advertising, there is truly no contest! When I think back to the media dollars I spent on over-the-air radio & TV placements over the years, I can only imagine how much more effectively I could have used my budget by shifting it to platforms like these. Rather than advertising to everyone who happens to be watching the 5:00 news or listening to local radio during their commute, you’re targeting a specific audience and delivering your message at the right time, in the right place. Especially as listening/watching habits shift over time, we know our audiences are spending time on these platforms. Your organization should be there too!

What do you love about working with arts organizations?

By now I’m sure I’ve established that I am a bonafide arts obsessive, but I truly believe that the arts make us better, kinder, more empathetic people. The arts organizations that we work with everyday are serving worthwhile, important missions. They make our communities and our society better. In my opinion, there’s no better way to spend my time than helping arts organizations reach their goals.

What’s something about your job that makes you excited to come to work every day?

I learn something new from my team members every day, and that’s so exciting! CI has a collaborative environment in which we can share learnings and best practices from across our client roster. AKA, all our clients benefit when one of us comes up with an innovation or a new strategy. Also, my colleagues are on the leading edge of every best practice there is. It’s inspiring working with them everyday because their level of deep knowledge in arts marketing is second to none.

CI’s place in the industry also means we hear directly from our contacts within each advertising channel about the latest innovations. That’s so exciting for me, and always gives me great ideas about which of my clients can benefit from new strategies and ideas.