Job: Executive Director, Center for the Arts
Julie Thompson started out as a part-time artist services coordinator at George Mason University back in 1995. Now, nearly two decades later, she’s executive director of the Center for the Arts, the centerpiece of performing arts at George Mason’s Fairfax Campus.
Her Life Before Mason: Thompson was a stage manager for 15 years. After graduating with a degree in theater from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, she worked as stage manager for the Minnesota Opera Company in Minneapolis. “It was an incredible place to start,” says Thompson of her first job. “It turned out to be a great place to learn.” Locally, she has worked with companies such as the Washington Opera, the Wolf Trap Opera Company, and Center Stage.
On what’s changed most at Mason: “The development of the academic programs and the caliber of students’ work. We have such good students now that we have a hard time keeping up with them.”
On the most unusual request from a performer: “Our artists are pretty straightforward for the most part, but we did have a Russian pianist who wanted to perform without any stage lights. He wanted to perform in the dark! Which is not normally done, of course. I mean, the audience pretty much wants to see a performance. But he was adamant about it, and he was a pretty finicky artist. After several hours of negotiation, which lasted until about 10 minutes before his performance, we finally convinced him to perform with very limited stage lights. That’s definitely one of the more crazy evenings I’ve had.”
On the performer she was most excited to meet: “Patti LuPone, who did the ARTS by George! benefit a few months ago. She’s a Broadway legend, and she actually requested to perform with Mason students. So we put together 16 students to perform with her. The students were so excited, she was great with them, and the performance itself was electrifying. So there was a big payoff at the end.”
On having the same title at the same university as your spouse: Thompson’s husband, Rick Davis, is executive director of Mason’s Hylton Performing Arts Center on the Prince William Campus. “We like to say that the university gets a pretty good deal with Rick and me in our roles since we are really never ‘off duty.’ There’s some friendly rivalry, but it’s more of a collaboration. Thank goodness.”
On what she’s most proud of about the center: “Mark Morris Dance Company comes here every year, and they’re a major, major company. Because we have a strong relationship with them, they also have a strong relationship with our School of Dance. Two of our alumni are now company members, so now they’re coming back each year with the company, and we’re so proud of that. Those links, those connections with the students—that’s what we do this for.”
On what she loves most about her job: “The fact that it’s never the same. Mason’s always changing and consequently the College of Visual and Performing Arts is always changing. It’s a dynamic atmosphere, and that’s really fun. Every day, you’re facing a whole different set of situations.”