Up Close: Profile of the Entertainment Programming Manager
If you’ve ever been in the presence of our Entertainment Programming Manager, Dennis Norton you can’t help but absorb his enthusiasm and passion for the Theatre world. The desire to bring the best in touring Broadway to the historic Hershey Theatre year-over-year offers our guests the opportunity to be delighted and entertained.
Dennis does more than book Broadway shows. Many years ago the Theatre would show a few select performances each year. Fast forward to 2018 and there are very limited days when the Theatre sits empty. This is in large part due to Dennis and his focus on continuing Milton S. Hershey’s legacy of providing entertainment for all. Nowadays, Hershey Theatre welcomes comedians, concerts, family shows, magic shows, the list goes on. However, at the core will always be the Broadway series presented each season. In between Dennis’s many phone calls and busy schedule he sat down with us to talk about his background, his love for the arts and entertainment and why he’s working his dream job.
Curious to see what Broadway shows Dennis has booked for the 2018-19 season? Join us for a FREE event at Hershey Theatre on Wednesday, April 11 at 7 p.m. as we unveil our next season. For more information or to reserve your spot, please call the Theatre Box Office at 717-534-3405.
Q) Tell us about your career. Where did you go to school? What was your career path prior to joining Hershey?
A) I graduated from Penn State University in Dec. 1986, moved to Harrisburg in 1992. From the late 1980's until 2000 I managed video rental stores from Silver Spring, MD to Mechanicsburg, PA. When I saw the movie online streaming process gradually killing the brick and mortar rental stores, I decided it was time to move into another of my favorite forms of entertainment: live concerts and Broadway shows!
Q) Walk us through your career so far at Hershey.
A) I was hired as Box Office Assistant Manager for Hershey Theatre under The M.S. Hershey Foundation, and started in December 1999 working the ticket window on the opening night of Ragtime The Musical. I was a ticket seller for a few years before moving into group sales and was highly involved in the first implementation of an online ticketing system in the early 2000's. I became an employee of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (HE&R) in August 2007 when The M.S. Hershey Foundation and HE&R partnered together to manage and operate all of the Hershey Entertainment venues.
Q) Why did you choose to work for Hershey?
A) I acted and sang in a dozen or so musicals with Theatre Harrisburg in the mid-90's through 2005-2006. I loved the energy surrounding live theatre performances in general, and since I was already in one part of the entertainment industry, I had my eyes on Hershey Theatre and wanted to somehow be involved in the ticketing and presentation of live Broadway shows in Central PA.
Q) What's your biggest accomplishment since joining the Hershey team?
A) Leading a project for the installation of front of house rigging points to be installed in front of the proscenium of Hershey Theatre. This involved HE&R's construction team as well as the approval of many entity heads in order to drill holes through the historic atmospheric ceiling, while maintaining the integrity of the venue and the look of the ceiling. This entire project was absolutely necessary to bring in one of the newer profitable shows, The Book of Mormon, but at the same time keeping our historic venue’s presentation abilities competitive with more modern venues; in order to present the newer shows in the original "light" that the producers want their shows to be seen in.
"Watching people enjoy our shows helps me to never take for granted the blessings I've been given in my career with HE&R."
Q) What's your favorite Broadway show?
A) I've always said The Phantom of the Opera is my favorite classic, and Wicked is my favorite modern show. However, as silly as this sounds, a recent viewing of the new Spongebob Squarepants on Broadway may have that replacing Wicked....I'd have to see it again to be certain, but it knocked my socks off, and I really wanted to not like it.
Q) What's the most rewarding aspect of your job?
A) Being able to stand in the back of the theatre, watching 1,500 – 2,000 people being able to let go of life and their concerns for a few hours, and watch them enjoy themselves, knowing that I had some part in bringing them all together for a night of entertainment. I feel privileged to have been able to enjoy all of the forms of entertainment that I have for 53 years, and it’s very rewarding to see other people enjoy something that brings me so much joy. People that might not be able to afford to go to New York City (NYC) for Broadway shows, or underprivileged students like our own at Milton Hershey School, or even the deaf and hard of hearing community that we just started interpreting our Broadway shows for a few years ago. Watching these people enjoy our shows helps me to never take for granted the blessings I've been given in my career with HE&R.
Q) What advice would you give someone interested in a career in Theatre and/or booking?
A) Start anywhere in a theatre or concert venue, and work your way into the area that interests you most. There's no real "school" for operating a theatre or booking one, it's all learning from others, watching process and lending a hand wherever you can to make the show go on. If you prove yourself as a dependable person, whether it be in a front of house or back of house position, you will go far in this business, whatever road you decide to venture down.
Q) What's the best perk of your job?
A) Getting to preview Broadway shows in NYC as a member of The Broadway League, the Live Broadway industry organization. As a Presenter of touring Broadway, I also am a member of the Tony Awards Committee and current voter for The Tony Awards each June.
Q) What does a typical day consist of?
A) There is no such thing as a typical day. I always said I never wanted to do the same thing every day of my life and I got my wish. Some days are all paperwork and contracts, some days are hundreds of phone calls trying to get shows or negotiate deal points. Some days are executing events and getting the closure of seeing hundreds of people enjoy themselves after all of the work put into by my team and myself.
Q) Tell us something folks might not know about you.
A) As a kid my favorite hobby was to keep calendars on the wall, and writing in all of the titles of my favorite TV shows. As an adult, I spend my time with calendars on the wall, and writing in all of the titles of the shows I'm booking for Hershey Theatre. Before working at Hershey Theatre, while managing video stores, I spent my spare time acting and singing in musicals. I've had the pleasure of playing many lead roles at The Whitaker Center in Harrisburg; Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, Rocky in Rocky Horror Picture show, Dickon in The Secret Garden, Teen Angel in Grease, and my absolute favorite role of all time....Alban/Zaza in La Cage Aux Folles!