Updated: May 17
At Downstage Right, we know there’s no one “right” path to becoming a professional artist. Just as we know, there’s no one “right” way to live creatively. In honor of this ethos, we decided the best way to start off the new year would be to talk to real people about how they paved their own paths in the arts. We sat down with actors, directors, playwrights, producers, coaches, teachers, influencers, and so many others; and asked them to help our students by sharing their stories. Today, we’re talking with Giana DeGeiso, co-founder with Jamie Rosler of Broadly Entertaining, about how she went from struggling actor to inspired event planner.
How do you answer the question — ‘What do you do?’
It used to be a lot harder of a question to answer because I felt my role was many things; entrepreneur, planner, emcee, teacher, singer, coach, etc., but now I feel really confident in telling people that I’m an event manager and an event planner. In the early days, I learned if I wanted to sell my business, I needed to really work on my elevator pitch. It wasn’t a switch; it was gradual. My role really began to solidify in my mind when I started to hire out for more hosts and do more administrative work for my business.
What do you love about what you do?
I love the MC portion and making people laugh; it’s still the performance aspect that I get the most out of. Using my training, capability and charisma, and pizazz. No matter what, it will always be part of what I do — a little jazz.
What made you decide to go into business with your friend, Jamie?
I was directing her in a short play! I had just moved to New York and answered a Craigslist ad about needing a director for a short — so that’s how I met her. She came to my house for rehearsal, and we hit it off almost immediately. Our friendship developed in tandem with artistic projects we’re working on together. She was the one that got me to host trivia after I got out of the banking industry and was starting to gig and make money as an actor. We haven’t looked back since.
I needed a day job. During college, I went to the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) for a 10-week intensive, and after that, I fell in love with the city and had to come back to San Francisco. Then I started auditioning for shows and getting cast, so I found a daytime gig that gave me insurance and stability while I was working out my performance career. It was pretty soul-crushing work. I had ambition, but my ambition was being placed in the bank, and that wasn’t very rewarding to me because it was a clear corporate path. So I broke up with my boyfriend, quit my job, and decided to direct a musical!
Were you always involved in the arts?
My dad was a director in the community theater scene where I grew up. Every community theater show needed stage management, set building, and production help, and I was always helping — all the time show after show. I didn’t go to any camps or classes because community theater was my camps and classes. All the shows my dad directed I was involved in some way, and all the ones he didn’t direct, he made me audition for. My dad played the piano, but my mom influenced my music too, and they were both really supportive of the arts growing up. My mom was also a wedding DJ, and she’d let me do the on mic hosting stuff, and I loved it. So that all equals exactly what I do now. Event management is very much like theater. You’re always putting on a show.
Do you have any formal education or training in theater arts?
I didn’t take theater classes in high school because it would conflict with the community theater projects that I was doing. I went to Reno’s Truckee Meadows Community College because they had a musical theater program. I wasn’t very into school, ever. I liked to do the shows, and I loved teaching, but I was always a terrible student. I dropped out and moved to San Francisco!
What has been your most formative professional experience thus far?
I did the intensive course at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, and at the final performance I was so in the zone it was as if I blacked out on stage. I had been working so hard that I couldn’t remember what I did! But I knew I played the role better than I ever had before, and that feeling changed my life forever. The other was when I decided to open the business with my partner. Before we officially incorporated, I remember saying: “So we’re doing it?” and we were both like — “Ok, let’s do it.” It felt big and grown up, I’d never incorporated anything before!
Do you believe there’s an ideal track for young theater professionals to follow? Why or why not?
I don’t. My husband is also a prime example of having the exact opposite path as me. He just found himself in theater, being the son of a computer salesperson and an engineer. He went to school for writing, got a degree in poetry, and then worked in the first tech boom. One year, he went to Burning Man and met the people from Blue Man Group and started working with them in their corporate offices as the general manager for their New York productions. No, I don’t think there’s a traditional path to a career in the arts. After all, my husband found his life in the arts in the middle of the desert.
Do you think it’s necessary for artists to pave their own paths?
There’s work out there for actors and directors that caters to everybody, whether you forge your own path or someone else does it for you. There’s commercial work out there that might be great for some people that other’s aren’t suited to. I realized really fast that auditioning and commercial work wasn’t my style, and I would much rather create my own or do grunge theater on the Lower East Side of New York. One of the things I love most about New York is that there aren’t necessarily enough gigs for all of us, so there are a lot more people making their own things.
How did you decide which path was right for you?
My partner, Jamie, and I have made a decision not to shy away from our politics in how we represent our company. That means we get to raise money for causes that are important to us any time we want and be really loud about it. So with any trivia night that I have to do for some corporate office somewhere, I also get to have a comedy show where I raise money for battered women. Every gig I do I make the choice to keep loving it.
How much of a role does your creative community play in your professional life?
It is a huge role, and since COVID, even bigger than before. Before COVID, when we would run a trivia night, the patrons would have a bar around them as entertainment while we were scoring. Now in the virtual space, all we have is dead air. We started hiring more of my musician friends and bartender friends, and chef friends to come to entertain the guests while we score their answer sheets. It’s something I would love to bring back into the world once things resume to normal…whatever that is.
How do you balance getting paid vs. nurturing your creativity?
It’s still difficult to know how much to charge people now. We take a lot of stuff into account — is this a school or non-profits, or is it a major Wall Street bank? Those are very different price scales in my mind. In the beginning, we didn’t have any starting capital. We made our money $50 at a time for a long time. Now we can charge more for our services because we’ve built confidence and increased our skill levels. It’s a constant balance between humility and knowing what we’re worth. I wish I could tell you that it goes away but we still struggle with it all the time.
How do you market yourself?
Social media is huge because it’s free, but the biggest way to market yourself is by word of mouth. We get the most business from one person saying to the next person — “You should hire them; they’re great!” 95% of my business comes through word of mouth. Same goes with my directing work. If I get a solid recommendation from someone I trust, I’ll put more weight on that recommendation than from someone I don’t know. How you work is just as important as your talent to me. Every job you do is marketing for the next job. I’m not going to come into a gig and not be helpful or cheerful because I might not get that job again.
Do you still consider yourself an actor?
I don’t believe I’ve earned that title at this time. I’ve directed more shows than I’ve acted in during the past ten years. However, there’s so much about hosting and being an MC is all about acting and putting on a persona. I have the Giana Bingo character down, and I put her on every time I call a game.
What are your tips for actors who are preparing for auditions?
If you’re auditioning for me, my best tip is to just relax. I want to see who you are more than anything. I want you to be your best self; I want to know who I’m working with and if I want to work with that kind of personality. Personality is first for me. Talent is natural, and it’s so easy to see. I know whether or not you have talent pretty fast. What I don’t know is if I want to spend every weeknight with you for the next six weeks.
Were you ever in a union?
No. When I was in San Francisco, I had this lovely artistic director that I’d worked with a lot. He heard that I was moving to New York and told me that if I stayed one more year with him, he’d get me my Equity card. But ultimately, I decided that it wasn’t worth it, maybe because of my community theater background. I also worked with a lot of artistic directors in small theater companies that had a hard time working with the union. If someone wanted to work with me that badly and I wanted to work with them, I knew there would always be a way.
Do you have other creative pursuits? Do they add to or detract from your acting?
I picked up the ukulele a couple of years ago, and I learned piano when I was younger so I could accompany myself; otherwise, it felt like I was a singer always looking for a band. During those times that we couldn’t hire a musician for our trivia nights, I played the ukulele while my partner tabulated scores. I’m not a songwriter, but from my perspective it’s always helpful to have an instrument.
What has been your favorite project thus far, and why?
Directing Les Miserables with 90 high school kids. I went back the next year and did Aida and Seussical and Mary Poppins. Directing big high-school theater projects with amazing, wonderful, talented kids — nothing beats it! It was super stressful, but it was so much fun, and it was nice to be home in Nevada while I did it.
How was 2020 for your business?
My business actually did better last year than ever before. We got hired for more work virtually than live gigs. I hope the work continues, and I love that we were able to adapt it to offer virtual and COVID-safe entertainment this year!
Giana DeGeiso is the co-founder of Broadly Entertaining — a progressive, women-owned and run event planning and management company established in 2017 with co-founder Jamie Rosler. She has been an actor and singer for as long as she can remember, thanks to a theater director father and guitar playing/wedding DJ mother. She studied musical theater through her early 20s and later moved to New York, where she studied improvisation and performed comedy around the city. Nowadays, she uses her entertainment and directing skillset to host and manage her own events.