UNO student gains real-world experience at Benson Theatre


Cassie Wade

Parker Brown has never been interested in performing on a stage. He’s not a singer, an artist or a photographer. He is, however, interested in making the arts accessible to the Omaha community.

Brown is an executive assistant at the Benson Theatre, a nonprofit organization founded in 2012. The organization enhances the community through educational and artistic experiences, according to its website.

Additionally, the nonprofit aims to renovate its namesake, the historic Benson Theatre, which was built in 1923. It was a serendipitous tour through the old theatre that drew Brown to the nonprofit.

Brown and a friend went to Benson First Friday (BFF) to see what the monthly event supporting regional artists was about. They mistakenly thought BFF was being held in the Benson Theatre, went on a tour and discovered it was a nonprofit.

“I found the place really cool,” Brown said. “Afterwards, I found them online, did a little research and sent an email saying I was interested in an internship or basically any kind of professional experience they might have.”

A few days later, Brown received an email from Amy Ryan, the nonprofit’s executive director, who set up a meeting with him.

“The meeting was basically like, ‘oh, hey, so you sent me an email. I’m wanting you to get involved. Here’s what you’re going to do today,’” Brown said.

Now, Brown is involved in many aspects of the theatre’s day-to-day operations.

“I have to renew our liquor license, I’m setting up board meeting contracts, preparing reports and grant applications and prepping for board meetings,” Brown said. “There is basically nothing I don’t have my hand in.”

Recently, Brown planned an event of his own to raise funds for the nonprofit. He and his boyfriend, Bryce Blair, put together a masquerade, which was held in the B Side of Benson Theatre.

Brown prepared for the event by spreading the word through social media, reaching out to community partners to ask for raffle prize donations and coming up with contest ideas to get people in the door.

“It was definitely kind of an out of the frying pan and into the fire type of situation,” Brown said.

The couple’s fundraiser was a success, and Brown gained valuable hands-on event programming skills, which the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) political science and international studies major and nonprofit management minor intends to put to good use in the future.

In fact, a desire to make sure he was on the right career path in college largely influenced Brown’s decision to reach out to the Benson Theatre for an internship opportunity, which turned into his role on staff.

“I don’t want to spend time and money in college trying to figure out my life and just realize that’s not what I want to do,” Brown said. “Doing this while in school, it really gives perspective on my career path.”

Seeing the real-world application of his nonprofit management classes while at his internship is something Brown says he enjoys because it personalizes UNO’s curriculum and highlights all that he’s learned so far.

“My boss always jokes with me that whenever I’m done here, I’ll be able to start my own nonprofit,” Brown said.

Brown has been asked by Benson Theatre if he’d like to partake in the nonprofit’s programming by performing in its productions or hanging art on the B Side’s gallery walls. He has said no because his interests lie elsewhere, behind-the-scenes, bringing art to the Omaha community.

“I am much more passionate about the actual administrative processes of an organization,” Brown said. “It’s what I’ve done here and what I will probably continue to do.”