Pursuing an MBA with an eye on theatre

by Jennifer Johnson,

Ben Crop ’08, MBA’09 uses dual degree to build a career in theatre management and education.

Ben Crop ’08, MBA’09 oversees a department’s budget, analyzes statistics and improves system inefficiencies for a living, but he’s not an operations manager — he works in theatre.

ben-crop-headshot.jpg

Crop is a teacher and technical director for the theatre department at Santa Barbara City College in California. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and an MBA in five years through Willamette’s accelerated 3+2 dual degree program.

He focused on nonprofit management for his MBA to grow his managerial and leadership skill set — he wanted to be a managing or executive director of an arts-based nonprofit. One year before he graduated, he landed a job as interim managing director at Salem Repertory Theatre.

“People often say that an MBA is not very useful unless you have a ‘high-up’ business role,” he said. “I say all jobs are business roles. The more we can be prepared to work in a business environment, the more success we will find in our lives and jobs.”

In pursuit of every opportunity

His college career had a slightly rocky start.

Six months before he started at Willamette, a blood vessel burst in his brain. He went to high school one morning with the worst headache he’d ever had and unintentionally spoke nonsense throughout the day, sentences like “I wish I had my glasses with me so I could walk the door.” That evening, he had “a dizzying migraine” and he lost feeling in his right hand, so his family took him to the hospital, he said.

By the time college began, he still struggled to recall words and lacked feeling in his hands. Within weeks, he recovered — miraculous, according to doctors, considering most survivors suffer from symptoms like slurred words for years.

Crop doesn’t view the incident as defining his college experience or later success. But he does believe it reinforced his longtime interest in working backstage, where he could design, create and express without having to memorize lines or put on the face of a character. Acting became incredibly difficult after his hemorrhage, he said.

“It is indeed an important part of my story, but not the foundation,” he said. “I was a motivated student who greatly cared about learning and my future career.”

During his BA/MBA, Crop became a production manager in Willamette’s theatre department and a counselor for a local summer theatre program. He worked for two years at Cascade Sound & Stage Lighting, supervising event staff for artists such as Alice Cooper, Wynonna Judd and Air Supply.

For his Atkinson Graduate School of Management internship, he spent the summer in New York City, marketing a national theatre program for Theatre Communications Group, which promotes professional nonprofit theatre, and briefly working for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. One of his TCG coworkers was a substitute stage manager for Broadway’s “Wicked,” and set Crop up to shadow the calling stage manager. He said, “Over one night, I learned a ton.”

He wanted nothing else but to stay in theatre, where he could be creative, technical and most importantly, belong to a community, he said.

He said, “Theatre is the only industry I have found where I get to do all of those things at the same time.”

Connections lead to future job

In search for a job after graduation, he by chance contacted Gabrielle Brewer-Wallin, then a director of theatre at Chemeketa Community College.

She happened to be the wife of Bobby Brewer-Wallin, Willamette professor of theatre and department chair, and she was looking for a new technical director. Two weeks after his 24th birthday, Crop started working at Chemeketa.

That job led to an assistant technical director role at Portland Center Stage and his current job at Santa Barbara City College, where he’s worked for eight years.

Gabrielle, who took a risk on him and was critical to his success at Chemeketa, he said, is among several mentors at Willamette who also provided him guidance.

“Between my education, peer group and community, there is no possible way I would be where I am today without Willamette,” he said.

Theatre is a community, and Willamette has a strong one — so strong Crop would go out of his way to work with someone from the university.

“It just goes to tell you that the theatre community is very tight and we all hold fellow Bearcats above all others.”

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Waller Hall on a sunny autumn day with orange-yellow tree in foreground