Staff Intro: Mark Steffen, Events Manager
We are thrilled to introduce you to our friend Mark Steffen, events manager, in our latest staff feature! A tea lover, extraordinary meeting leader, and all-around office MVP, Mark works with other UNC departments and student orgs who present their work at CPA’s venues, and was one of CPA’s very first staff members.
CAN YOU GIVE US A SENSE OF YOUR DAY-TO-DAY AT CPA?
The bulk of my work involves working with organizations that rent our facilities—primarily other University departments or UNC student organizations. So a typical day might involve responding to venue reservation requests, meeting with rental clients to help them plan and budget for their events, and working on invoices for events that have already passed. I also lead our weekly Operations Staff Meetings where we plan for upcoming events and discuss how past events went (both Carolina Performing Arts events and events by other organizations) and what improvements we can make in the future.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED AT CPA?
A long time! I started in November 2005, when CPA was only a few months old. It was supposed to be a temp job, but things turned out differently. I like to tell people my very first assignment at CPA was to assemble a particleboard bookshelf for our administrative office, which was in a retail space on Franklin Street near where CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio is now. It’s amazing to see how far CPA has come over the years.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
I really enjoy working on multiple, diverse events all at once. You never know who will come knocking on CPA’s door wanting to have an event in one of our spaces. We work a lot with student organizations that put on performances in our spaces, which is really rewarding. They always try their best to put on the best show possible, which sometimes leads to some interesting requests. Like when a fraternity performing in the Step Show asks if they can fly a person in from the grid (No) or when one of the student theater groups asks if they can use fake blood for their performance of Sweeney Todd (Maybe, but we have to test to make sure the fake blood won’t stain the curtains first).
From time to time we’ll also have groups bring big name speakers to our venues. Neil deGrasse Tyson (a personal favorite) once spoke at Memorial Hall and Jimmy Fallon filmed an episode of Late Night on stage at Memorial Hall with President Obama and Dave Matthews as guests. That’s a hard one to beat.
COFFEE OR TEA?
Coffee first thing in the morning to wake me up, then tea throughout the rest of the day. Any CPA staff member should be able to vouch for the tea thing.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR GO-TO PLACE FOR TAKEOUT FOOD THESE PAST WEEKS?
I haven’t done a lot of takeout recently, but I’ve definitely been missing Cosmic Cantina. It’s right next to our office at the Porthole Building. When I’m not working from home, it takes all my strength not to eat lunch there every day.
IT’S A SUNNY SATURDAY AFTERNOON. WHERE WOULD WE FIND YOU?
Hopefully somewhere outdoors, on a walk or in a boat. I have a few favorite places—University Lake, the Occoneechee Speedway Trail, and Saxapahaw along the Haw River.
WHAT’S SOMETHING THAT’S BEEN GIVING YOU JOY THROUGH THESE STRANGE COVID TIMES?
There are a lot of things I’m missing right now. Many things I either didn’t use to think about or took for granted. But lately I’ve been using those feelings as excuses to be more mindful and thankful for the things I used to enjoy and will, one day, enjoy again. Trading good mornings with my bus driver (extra special when it’s the CPA bus I’m riding), stores with shelves stocked full of toilet paper, and performances on stages instead of screens and with real audiences too. Those things will come back in time. Hopefully once they do, we will all cherish them a bit more. Thinking that way actually gives me a great deal of joy.
WHAT’S THE MOST MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE YOU’VE EVER SEEN (CPA OR NON-CPA)?
In 2011 CPA presented Black Watch by National Theatre of Scotland. It was a play about a regiment of British soldiers fighting in the Iraq War meant for a black box theater space. This was before CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio existed, so we built the set on stage in Memorial Hall and sat the audience on stage too. It was such an immersive, moving experience. The scale of the performance seemed incredibly huge, with the sounds of explosions making you feel as if you were really on the battlefield. At the same time there were moments that were truly intimate, when you were only ten feet away from an actor portraying a soldier in a way that was based on interviews of real soldiers. It was incredible.