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August 11, 2014

Women to watch: Lauren Wayne, State Theatre

Photo / Tim Greenway
Lauren Wayne, general manager of the State Theatre, inside the historic Portland venue, which reopened in 2010 after a major refurbishment.
Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Lauren Wayne, general manager of the State Theatre, works in her memorabilia-lined office on Congress Street in Portland.

Crobo LLC/ State Theatre

609 Congress St., Portland

Founded: 2010

Product: Venue management/Concert promotion

Employees: 6 full-time, 40 part-time

Gross annual ticket revenue (average): $3 million

Contact: 956-6000

www.statetheatreportland.com

In her own words

What was the biggest challenge of your career? Learning to do everything that I do at once — be the general manager, marketing director, talent buyer and human resources person — and find a balance between doing all that and having a personal life.

When did you know you'd made it? I knew that I was successful when My Morning Jacket took the stage on Oct. 15, 2010 [when the State Theatre reopened], and I knew that I had done a really cool thing, with some help, obviously. That was the first time where I remember where I was, like, this is absolutely awesome.

What advice do you wish you'd gotten early in your career? Don't be afraid to say no.

I'll relax when …? That does not compute [in a robotic voice]. Yeah, I can't relax — not when it comes to work. It's why I am where I am.

What was your 'Haven't we moved beyond this' moment? Honestly, I probably have that moment every day about something different and that's just a testament to how this industry is. As much as I have great relationships with most of the people and talent agents I work with, sometimes arguing with the same agent about the same thing every time I make an offer gets really, really old.

Name a large-scale concert that's happened in Portland over the past several years — Ray LaMontagne, Elvis Costello, Snoop Dogg — and chances are, Lauren Wayne was involved.

By her own estimate, there is an 80% likelihood she has booked and promoted any one of those shows — and that may even account for concerts that happened before she was named general manager of the 85-year-old State Theatre in 2010 for its much-anticipated reopening.

"Sometimes I can't even think of specific shows because there are so many shows to think about and I get overwhelmed," Wayne said recently in her second floor Congress Street office, surrounded by walls of concert memorabilia that could double as trophies.

Needless to say, she's a force to be reckoned with in the local music world.

A former regional marketing director for concert promotions giant Live Nation, Wayne's work as a concert promoter in Maine over the past 13 years has been a boon for music fans on a local, state and regional level — and even more so when she was chosen to lead the State Theatre, helping make Portland a more attractive destination, and not just for national talent. But that's equally true of creative professionals who seek to live in a city with a lively arts and restaurant scene, as evidenced by a study that looked at livability indicators in Portland and how its creative economy plays into those.

After four years of working as the venue's general manager, Wayne has accomplished much. The 1,870-capacity venue is now attracting around 110,000 people a year, with 1,200 attending an average show. There are indications the theater is having a positive impact on the local economy.

For one, she says, Crobo LLC, which operates as the State Theatre's parent company, generates an annual average of $3 million in gross ticket revenue, the majority of which is used to pay fees to artists and bands as part of their contracts.

And the company has been doing well enough to make a series of investments over the last few years, Wayne says, including last year's purchase of the 529-seat Port City Music Hall, the recent purchase of state-of-the-art LED lighting equipment for both venues and the development of an outdoor venue in the Portland area that has yet to be announced.

There was also the Mumford & Sons festival on Aug. 4, 2012, which hosted the British folk rock act, along with a few other bands, at Eastern Promenade park — an event unprecedented in scale that Wayne had only four months to organize. While the event had a few bumps in the road, with complaints from some neighbors, it was largely seen as a major asset for the city, attracting 16,000 fans, netting the city $50,000 in profits and benefiting nearby businesses and restaurants.

"That was an incredible experience," Wayne says. "As frustrating and stressful those months were before, it was one of the most rewarding days of my life."

A chance to lead

It might be hard to tell now, but prior to joining the State Theatre, Wayne had zero experience as a general manager — especially when it came to running a business that had dozens of part-time workers and included facility management as one of the job's primary responsibilities.

Before taking the job, Wayne had worked her way up through a local branch of a concert promotions company that would eventually be acquired by Live Nation, where she would work as director of marketing in its Boston office. She had already been booking for most of Portland's major venues at that point, including when she brought the now-defunct rock duo The White Stripes in 2007 to the Cumberland County Civic Center, now known as the Cross Insurance Arena.

After the State Theatre closed in 2006, Wayne knew it was only a matter of time until someone made the investment to reopen the venue. Turns out, Alex Crothers, co-owner of Burlington, Vt.-based concert promoter Higher Ground Presents, and Jim Glancy, a partner at New York-based Bowery Presents, were the industry backers seeking do just that — and they wanted Wayne to join.

For Crothers and Glancy, she was the only qualified person for the job.

"In order to pull this project off successfully, we needed someone who was part of the community, who understood what Portland was like, what Mainers wanted to see and had connections with the community, so she was a natural choice," Crothers says.

Between May of that year and the venue's opening night on Oct. 15, 2010, Wayne had much to accomplish: oversee a second round of renovations that updated the venue's look and feel, hire its first wave of part-time production and bar staff and begin booking up the venue's event calendar.

The initial workload called for 70-hour work weeks and the occasional "stress-cry," Wayne says with a laugh, but those days of trials and tribulations are now long past. Having started as the company's sole full-time employee, Wayne has since expanded staff enough to hire five other full-time employees, allowing her to work closer to 50 hours a week, so that she can try to live an otherwise normal life and spend time with her son.

"It's inexpressible how much I've learned over the last four years," she says. "And it's so amazing that [Crothers] and [Glancy] trusted me to be in this position as someone who has never run a venue, not only because it's very flattering that they knew I was capable of doing it, but they put me in a position to now grow the company. Every year we're doing something new, and every year I'm learning something, so the burnout factor for me at least is very, very low."

The M.O. is to grow

During the State Theatre's first year, Wayne had a bit of an uphill battle when it came to booking shows: With the venue having been closed for four years in part due to structural deficiencies, she had to convince booking agents across the country that Portland is still a viable market and that the State Theatre is not just a safe place to play, but a great one.

"Now it's probably 70% of agents coming to me because they've had bands play here before," Wayne says. "So they know we're professional, they know what the theater's about and they know they're not going to be screwed," noting it's the same way for Port City Music Hall down the street.

But Wayne's modus operandi isn't just to attract talent. She seeks to grow it, too. That's why her company books and promotes for more than just the State Theatre and Port City Music Hall — Crobo also books for the Cross Insurance Arena and a slew of smaller venues.

"It keeps the market healthy, but it grows those bands to eventually play Port City, the State or [the Arena]," she says. "It helps us, it helps the band, but it also helps keep Portland active because it keeps the city on agents' radar."

One time earlier this year, Wayne helped fast-track a band's development, in part because it was becoming abundantly clear the band's popularity was on the verge of exploding. She remembers it as one of the cooler stories from her four years so far as general manager.

Lake Street Dive, a Boston-based indie soul and jazz band, was scheduled to play Port City Music Hall in April but was already on track to sell out the 540-person venue months in advance. Noticing the fast ticket sales, the band's agent contacted Wayne and asked to see if the band could be moved to the State Theatre, which happened to be free that night.

After Wayne gave the green light, the show ended up selling out. And it was not only the band's last tour date, but it also became the largest show Lake Street Dive has ever played.

"They were really psyched and giddy, and very thankful for the fans," she says proudly. "That is an awesome thing to stick on a map as a Portlander — Portland did that."

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Lauren Wayne, State Theatre
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