‘Parallels and relationships’: New CEO talks about her plans for State Theatre

Sarah Chaplin. (File photo)

Sarah Bartlo-Chaplin, an accomplished arts administrator with more than 20 years’ experience, has been appointed the seventh CEO and president of State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick.

“I am extremely honored to join the passionate and committed staff and board of directors of State Theatre New Jersey as they look to the future of the institution,” Bartlo-Chaplin said. “The opportunity for building on the historic State Theatre’s vibrancy and relevance makes this a truly exciting time to be part of a wonderful institution, and I look forward to becoming part of the community that obviously values its many contributions.”

Bartlo-Chaplin, who will assume the role in August, currently resides and works in Washington, D.C., as the executive director of The National Theatre Corp.

“We are elated to have an individual with Sarah’s experience join us as we look to begin the next chapter in the State Theatre’s exciting history,” Scott Fergang, State Theatre board of trustees chairman, said. “It is Sarah’s art management skills, her deep understanding of the building community and her work with renowned national and international artists that will propel State Theatre New Jersey to a new level of success.”

Prior to her work with The National Theatre Corp., Bartlo-Chaplin served as the general manager for SMG, a national venue management company for multiple theatrical venues, including The National Theatre in Washington, D.C., the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts in Jacksonville, Florida, and Peery’s Egyptian Theatre in Ogden, Utah. She also worked as the associate managing director of the San Diego Repertory Theatre in San Diego, California, and senior associate director of development and alumni affairs at the Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.

Bartlo-Chaplin graduated from Weber State University and Yale University with degrees in theater and theater management.

“Speaking on behalf of the CEO search committee, we are thrilled that Sarah Bartlo-Chaplin has agreed to take the helm as we approach our second century of providing world renowned programs and arts access to the community,” Wendy Wiebalk, State Theatre New Jersey trustee and chair of the CEO Search Committee, said. “We conducted a thorough search process and were quite taken by Sarah’s reputation for excellence in the arts community, as well as her passion for inclusive programming and community outreach.”

ROI-NJ spoke with Bartlo-Chaplin about how she will best apply her experience cultivating artists, promoters and funders, as well as consistently increasing audience support for performing arts centers and regional theaters, to her new role at State Theatre New Jersey.

Here’s what she had to say:

ROI-NJ: Let’s start by talking your past roles. What led you to a career in the arts?

Sarah Bartlo-Chaplin: I started in theater as an actor and director, but switched over rather quickly to technical theater and arts management to pay my rent. Since that time, I’ve primarily focused on my work with presenting theaters, as I enjoy the possibilities of presenting multiple genres in one venue. … That has taken me all over the country, not only to my hometown of Ogden, Utah, but also to New Haven, Connecticut; San Diego, California; Jacksonville, Florida; Washington, D.C.; and now, New Brunswick.

ROI: How did you come to learn about the search for a CEO at State Theatre?

SBC: Typically, an executive search firm such as Management Consultants for the Arts would advertise a position while also reaching out to and networking with professionals in the industry to gauge interest. In my case, I already had been speaking with MCA for several years and even had been involved in some of their past searches. So, I was speaking with some individuals who work there about another project when State Theatre New Jersey came up. … That proceeded into a few conversations in which I spoke with the consultant about why I was interested in the position and what I thought I could bring to the table. They then recommended me to the search committee.

ROI: What was it about State Theatre that interested you?

SBC: I especially am excited to work with a community that truly values an important historical institution like State Theatre. I also met some really amazing, committed and passionate staff and board members at State Theatre who are very dedicated to the organization, and am very much looking forward, in particular, to being a part of their inspiring education and outreach programs. … I’ll be relocating this summer to live in New Brunswick because it is very important to me that I live in the community in which I work. I’ve enjoyed my time visiting State Theatre and the downtown area, which has undergone such a fantastic transition, and am looking forward to calling New Brunswick home.

ROI: Do you have initial plans for State Theatre once you assume the role of CEO?

SBC: The possibly synergy between arts institutions and corporations is critical, particularly given the current state of arts funding and teaching the arts in schools. That is one of the reasons I am so excited to work with our education and outreach programs and partnering with corporations will continue to make that an important asset for our community. … I previously was involved with corporate campaigns all the way from identification and prospecting through cultivation, and don’t have an issue with taking a challenging program and finding a way forward, even when people don’t seem to think there is a way. … I try to find what it is about the partnership that will speak to both entities, the parallels and relationships, that we can cultivate and build upon.

ROI: Lastly, how do you plan to work with the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center next year?

SBC: My main goal, in terms of programming, is to build upon State Theatre’s mission of inclusion and diversity while building community engagement. … That being said, we have the opportunity, I believe, to find ways to bring our audiences together and even create some cost savings, such as the possibility of shared box offices. There also may be some interesting opportunities with Crossroads Theatre Company and George Street Playhouse, as well as with Rutgers University and the Mason Gross School of the Arts, to look at internship and fellowship options. I really look forward to exploring those potential opportunities.