10 Down, 20 To Go

Ten years ago today, I started working at the National Arts Centre. At the time I was still finishing my Masters at the University of Toronto and working at Fort Henry. It was a pretty big culture shock – one day I was pretending to be a 19th century British artillery lieutenant, the next I was a worker bee in a big arts organization.

Truth be told, initially I wasn’t really that interested in the job. I applied because B thought it would be a good idea, and I didn’t have any other plans. Despite the fact that I had marched by the NAC every day for a summer doing Ceremonial Guard, I knew practically nothing about the organization. Given some of the problems the NAC had in those days, my ignorance may have been a blessing in disguise.

When I arrived, I had no idea what an Orchestra Operations Associate did, and I had no experience working in an office. The woman who had held the position for the previous two years was supposed to show me the ropes for a couple of weeks, but things hadn’t ended well for her so she was gone by the time I got there.

Apparently the orchestra had been quite fond of her, and I can still remember the stony silence that greeted me when I was introduced to them on my first day. I’m sure the musicians thought the management was insane to hire a young kid with no experience – if I was in their shoes, I would have been thinking the same thing.

I had one day to spend with my new boss, and then he left for nine weeks of parental leave. Eventually most of the staff left for summer vacation, and I was pretty much left alone for a few weeks to read through files and try to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. I can still remember sitting backstage at a concert trying to memorize my Collective Agreement – what a geek.

For the first month I sublet an unfinished apartment. I had a green foam mattress on the floor and some sheets – that was it. No phone, no television or radio, no dishes, nothing. I’d call B from the payphone across the street every night, and then wander the streets for a couple of hours. It was a pretty long month…

In retrospect, I totally lucked out. I arrived around the same time that Pinchas, a new board chair, and a great CEO came on board, and the organization experienced a real renaissance. I had a supportive and patient boss, and the musicians forgave most of my rookie mistakes.

Today also means I’m 1/3 of the way to retirement. According to my pension statement, I can retire on July 3, 2028. That’s a holiday Monday, people, so you have no excuse for missing my big send-off. Mark your calendars.

Me in my office back in 1999.

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