Bismarck State College - Associate of Arts in Communications + Associate of Sciences in Psychology
North Dakota State University - Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatrical Performance and Directing
Amber Bernhardt has one of the most enthusiastic, genuine self-job descriptions we've had the pleasure of reading, yet. A teaser: "I play for a living. I create make believe. And if I make believe and play to the extent of my ability, I get to enrich humanity doing it. How cool is that?!" We'd say it sounds incredibly cool.
What's Amber so passionate about? She's the executive director of Dakota Stage, a community theatre company in Bismark, North Dakota. As the company's lone full-time employee, Amber does it all, taking on everything from grant writing and promotions to ticket sales, event planning, budgets and bathroom cleaning. It's hard to believe, then, that this "Jill-of-all-trades" was ready to abandon theatre for a career in social work just before she snagged her current gig. Amber stayed because she believes this "tangible, colorful, meaningful art form is an incredibly important and effective tool for social change." We think she'll make you believe, too.
Be kind. No exceptions.
How did you discover your current job?
In the spring of 2010 I was living in Illinois and had been accepted to the master's of social work program at the University of Chicago for the fall semester. At the time my grandfather, still living in North Dakota, was very ill, so I decided to leave my job in arts and entertainment public relations and marketing in Chicago and return home to Bismarck to spend the summer with him and my family before going back to the city to begin graduate school. Well, time, money, circumstances, yadda, yadda, yadda -- I stayed. And I required immediate employment. As it happened, the very day that I made the decision to remain in Bismarck, a friend and colleague posted the opening for the executive director of Dakota Stage position on his Facebook page. I applied and had an interview and a job a few days later. Proof of the power of social networking!
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
There is no typical day for me. My hours and schedule and commitments are continually in flux so it’s never boring and forever exciting in my professional world and I take it as it comes! I am the only full-time employee so I pretty much run the show on my own from top to bottom. I write grants, promote productions, give interviews, attend conferences, plan events, manage ticket sales, pay bills, organize volunteers, create print materials, send newsletters, clean bathrooms and so much more. It’s an always moving, ever-changing carnival ride in this business and I just love it.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
The reason that I labor in theatre and the reason that I returned to it after determining not to abandon it for a career in social work is that I truly, truly believe that this very tangible, colorful, meaningful art form is an incredibly important and effective tool for social change. I believe that the theatre is a safe place where creative individuals can explore limitless potential and possibility through countless themes and characters from an endless library of amazing stories. Then they can take those people and subjects and provide a living, breathing, educational and entertaining experience for anyone open to receiving it. It’s a powerful and beautiful phenomenon of symbiotic growth and learning and watching it unfold time and time again is its own reward. The biggest challenge is having the resources to reach everyone everywhere to be certain that all people are given the opportunity to see and hear and feel live theatre.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
Time. For the first time in more than a decade I live in the same city as my entire extended family and I see them less than I did when I lived out of state. But, on the plus side, they all attend a lot more live theatre now!
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
Patience and perseverance have an enormous pay off. I could elaborate but there’s not enough words to explain the importance of that phrase and it’s better kept simple anyway. Patience and perseverance. I apply that philosophy to every professional scenario and it hasn’t failed me yet.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
I think that the challenges for women in arts and entertainment are the same as they are in any other industry. Women statistically are treated with less respect and taken less seriously. They are less likely to advance and generally make less. They also face issues of harassment in several areas. But ... I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have personally overcome (and in many cases never experienced) those challenges. I fully believe that this is because of my steadfast idea of the importance of patience and perseverance. If it can work for me in a very conservative, traditional, patriarchal small town, it can work for anyone, anywhere.
Who are your role models?
I’ve been privileged to work for some incredible people over the years who have taught me everything that I know about being successful in this business. Most notable are Dan Rogers, Lori Horvik, Vicki Chepulis, Vance Krebs, Anne Green and my mentor, Kathy Anderson. Teachers, supervisors and friends, these arts and entertainment rockstars have lead me by example to a place of professional clarity and confidence and they each continue to inspire me in new ways every day. But in life and love and strength of character, my beautiful, brilliant mother, Lana Bernhardt, will always be my greatest hero and my determination to make her proud keeps me ever focused and driven.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Avoid judgment and treat all people with respect. Be kind. No exceptions. If you live by that mantra you’ll never need to do anything else.
What advice do you have for women who want to be in your industry?
Make contacts, make contacts, make contacts! Arts and entertainment, more than any other business, is entirely who you know. Make contacts. Be patient and persevere and above all, avoid judgment, show respect and be kind. If you can stick to that creed, you’ll thrive. And you’ll be a lot happier for it.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I’m going to be a fry cook on Venus.
What are three things you love aside from your job?
I love mac n’ cheese, my bulldog and Elton John.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
This business isn’t easy, and it isn’t profitable, and it’s far less glamorous than most people perceive. But it is the best business on earth and I thoroughly enjoy it every day, possibly because of its inherent chaos and challenges. I am honored and privileged to be able to do what I love and love what I do and I wouldn’t trade that for all of the money or prestige in the world. I play for a living. I create make believe. And if I make believe and play to the extent of my ability, I get to enrich humanity doing it. How cool is that?!
-Interview by Keriann Strickland