She’s a homebody and a globetrotter. She’s an adventurous eater and a centered yogi. She’s a protector of the arts and in the business of making memories. She’s Laura Zimbrick, Corporate Partnership, Premium Seating Manager at the Fox Theatre Atlanta.
There’s something about backpacking across Spain with a tiny budget and no plan that teaches a few things and makes a few memories. Just ask Laura Zimbrick. One might call her a world-traveling homebody, a woman who loves to quietly relax after work, but who has also done quite a lot of adventurous globetrotting.
She aspires to be the type of leader who can respond in an instant with clarity and confidence about her profession, but many might argue that she is already there. With a fascination for different cultures, she still maintains a grounded focus, which makes her perfect for the performing arts world.
After graduating from Georgia State University, majoring in Spanish and Psychology, Laura held what she says felt like 100 odd jobs. She was a bartender, a wedding planner, a gallery curator, a festival organizer. But eventually she came back to a place that always held a special place in her heart – the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
It’s interesting to hear that you have an academic background in psychology. How does that serve you in sales?
I always thought that sales was going to be this big bad monster. I was so scared of it, but now that I’m getting into it and teaching myself how to do this, it turns out that the skill set isn’t really that different from tending bar. It’s getting to know people, finding out what their needs are, and then giving them what they need rather than trying to sell them something that is some basic, blanket answer…that’s not what makes a good salesperson. It’s listening to what their needs are and delivering.
What are some of your interests outside of the theatre?
Well, I’m a homebody really. I love to get home at 5:30 and put the PJs on and hang. I’m honest about that. But I do love yoga. I love trying out new recipes with my husband. I love to travel to new places and some old favorites. And I love to read.
“I always thought that sales was going to be this big bad monster. I was so scared of it, but now that I’m getting into it and teaching myself how to do this, it turns out that the skill set isn’t really that different from tending bar.”
What’s your favorite yoga pose?
I really like arm balances a lot. I love the challenge that I get. Every day I try to work a little bit closer to it. And the best part about yoga that I’ve taken into my daily life is that it’s ok if what you did yesterday, you’re not able to do today. Find out where you are, be good at where you are, and love where you are, and then tomorrow’s a totally different day.
What about your favorite recipes?
I think [my husband and I] had salmon every day for a year. But once we started to get a little bit more comfortable in the kitchen, we love making pizzas, we love tuna, anything on the grill. We change it up every day, and the crock pot is our best friend.
What are some of your favorite travel destinations? And what makes them memorable experiences?
I will say that my all-time favorite is Spain. I went there just after school, took a backpack and not quite enough money, but I went all the way around the country and just ate my way through every city. I didn’t have an itinerary. I didn’t care where I was going next. It was just wherever the train took me. So that, by far, is my favorite.
What type of cuisine do you remember the most?
In Barcelona, it was the pintxos, these little breakfast sandwiches. And then in San Sebastian, there was this little bar that wouldn’t open until 4 o’clock. They made everything for the day before 4. They opened up and had everything out on the bar, all these little tapas plates, and you picked whatever you wanted. It was kind of an honor system. You just checked off what you had then you paid. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. They don’t restock for the evening, but it was the best food. And some of those things, I had never tried before and may or may not try again. Who knows? But it was perfect.
Was there a language barrier for you?
I spoke the language at the time quite well. The only time that there was a language barrier was when I met some German people at the Alhambra, I think. We ended up speaking Spanish because we each knew that language better than the other, so that worked out really well.
One may wonder how these experiences then circle back around to performing arts. The term “renaissance woman” seems to make it all come together. And as Laura knows, roots in the worlds of music and adventure can run deep.
“Mom and I had a mother-daughter date. I remember where we sat. I remember the way the stars looked in the sky. I remember everything about that experience.”
Getting back to the performing arts center segment of the industry, what first drew you to PACs in general?
I’ve been coming to the theatre since I was a kid. My parents had the Les Misérables soundtrack on cassette. I played it so much I think I broke the tape. We were big fans growing up. I danced a little bit when I was a kid. I was in community theatre. I was the Cowardly Lion for The Wizard of Oz.
And I remember the first time I came to the Fox. It was for 42nd Street. Mom and I had a mother-daughter date. I remember where we sat. I remember the way the stars looked in the sky. I remember everything about that experience. It really set home for me, where I was meant to be, or where I was meant to become my greater self. I really loved it.
It reminds me every time I see an artist onstage why I love this place so much. Because you can feel this energy that reverberates between the artist and the audience. It’s something about them looking out into this crowd, a very intimate setting with this beautiful architecture, and they are loving every minute of it. And the audience can feel that, so the audience is just bouncing back that energy, and it becomes such a personal experience. This place is really special.
Do some of your corporate clients have that generational connection that you have in your personal life?
Every day we hear stories. ‘I had my prom here.’ ‘I got married here.’ ‘I had my first kiss here.’ Everybody’s got a story. Even transplants, we love to hear their stories. ‘I started coming here five or ten years ago. Our first show was Lynyrd Skynyrd.’ But a lot of people also come to us and say, ‘I was a part of the Save the Fox campaign in the 70’s. I used to send my pennies in.’ It’s a really special thing.
But I will say that with us being a transplant city, not everyone has been to the Fox. So we’ve taken on that initiative to get more people involved, more younger audiences involved. That’s a part of our community engagement, reaching out to our local communities, and getting the kids to love the Fox just like we do.
For those of our members who aren’t familiar with the historical periods of this building, can you provide a little more detail on what “Save the Fox” was?
We have had a storied past. We opened on Christmas Day in 1929, and just a couple of years later, we were in bankruptcy already because of the Great Depression. Plus, there were so many things throughout the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s about suburban exploration and TVs in people’s homes, those kinds of things.
So by the mid-70’s when the theatre had fallen into disrepair, it was not being used in the way that it had originally been imagined. There was an opportunity for AT&T (or BellSouth at the time) to take the property and use it for their parking lot because their headquarters was just next door. And the community was in an uproar. They were not happy. So it was one of the first major grassroots efforts to save the community theatre in this great historic building.
It really was people sending in their pennies and writing notes on their phone bills. There were parades and celebrity endorsements. It was a really beautiful time for the Fox of course, but also for the city of Atlanta to band together around something. We had just lost Union Station downtown in what’s now Underground Atlanta. It was a beautiful building and people got scared, so they came together, and they saved us. That was a little more than 40 years ago, and ever since then, we’ve operated in the black, and our community has continued to support us.
Performing arts facilities are asking themselves more and more, “What do we bring to the table? And how can we bring more?” Of course, there are cues to be taken from the sports world, but PACs have their own strengths and personalities too. At the end of the day, it’s no surprise that Laura sees real experiences as a major focus.
The ALSD is obviously sports and entertainment, stadiums, ballparks, and arenas, as well as this growing segment of performing arts centers with corporate hospitality being programmed into buildings such as this one. What can we learn from one another? Are we really that different?
As it turns out, I don’t think we’re all that different. Granted, sports have cornered the corporate entertainment segment for decades now, but we’re coming. I will say that I was at an ALSD Conference a couple of years ago in San Francisco, and [San Francisco Giants CEO] Laurence Baer was there. He was one of the keynote speakers, and he said something that really struck a chord with me – we’re not competing with each other, with other venues, with other forms of entertainment. We’re competing with people’s free time. We’re competing with their couches.
“We are the great protectors of live entertainment. We need to remember that there’s a reason that people pay really good money to come out, off of their couches, out of their houses, and into our seats.”
And that’s something that all of us can learn from each other. We are the great protectors of live entertainment. We need to remember that there’s a reason that people pay really good money to come out, off of their couches, out of their houses, and into our seats. We need to protect that, and we need to allow it to thrive. So that’s one of those things where we need to keep track of each other – what’s going on in the industry, what are people doing, what do they want? The through-line, I think, for all these venues is customer service obviously, and safety is another big thing. We need to continue to keep that dialogue open between all the venues.
What are some of the events and experiences that are getting the performing arts center audience off of that couch and into the Fox Theatre?
We get some big names here, so that works very well for us. We’ve had Prince, Don Henley, Shawn Mendes, Paul Simon. We’ve got Hamilton coming up. We’ve got really great things that people want to see. They want to be a part of it. People want experiences now, so that’s the great thing about what we do. We can provide that for people.
But the other great thing about the Fox, specifically about performing arts, is that every day is a little bit different. We’ve had every demographic of Atlanta. Between a Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday night, it could change. And so, it’s the challenge and the fun part of our job to find out what those expectations are and meet them.
You have a very cool renovation project here at the Fox Theatre. Can you take us through what the guest journey will be after the renovation is complete?
One of the biggest things that we weren’t able to provide previously was taking ownership of the entire guest experience. Not so much from the time they scan their ticket to the time they walk through the doors at the end, and not even so much driveway-to-driveway. It’s awareness-to-reminiscence at this point.
So when a guest finds out about a show, if they’re a member of the club, they call up their dedicated ticket concierge, they secure their tickets to the performance, and then they reserve access to the Marquee Club. Fast-forward to the day of the show, about 90 minutes before the show starts, they park in their designated space. They walk into their private entry where they are greeted by name. And then, they walk into this golden oasis of absolute grandeur. It is the most beautiful part of the theatre, not detracting from it of course, but really paying homage to it.
We’ll have a beautiful spread of hors d’oeuvres. We’ll have five premium bars on three different levels. There’s the main floor, the mezzanine level that looks onto the main floor, and then we’ll have the rooftop terrace as well. The rooftop terrace, which we can talk about in a bit, is actually split into three separate areas as well. There’s fully enclosed (fully air-conditioned), fully exterior, and a little mix of both. We want to make sure that people get the best of the Atlanta weather at any given moment. So they have 90 minutes to enjoy their time there. They can preorder a drink for intermission, and it will be waiting for them when they get back. They have private restrooms. And then obviously if they decide to linger, because the space is really beautiful, we’ll have show-feed on the plasmas, or the football game if it’s warranted. And then afterward, we’ll have live entertainment from time to time depending on the day of the week and type of show.
As Laura wraps up her interview, hundreds of children erupt in gleeful screams from a nearby performance space. They are at the Fox to see a condensed version of The Nutcracker, and apparently, the dancing rats have just entered from the rear of the auditorium. It sounds like a muffled, playful, preschool Armageddon just behind a set of double doors.
Laura smiles, letting out a sentimental sigh “It’s just not Christmas until you hear the kids scream at the rats.”
And immediately, the Fox Theatre is already doing its job for the next generation. It’s making memories, and so is Laura.