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Woman Around Town: Isa Goldberg—
President of The Drama Desk

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Like many young women, Isa Goldberg had an idle fantasy about going into theater. The Broadway production of The Sound of Music made a deep impression on her at age seven. Living in upstate Connecticut, however, she had, for the most part, to make do with participating in school plays and attending local college productions. When the family moved to Rhode Island, Isa joined a children’s theater group in order to make new friends.

It helped her natural shyness. The Goldbergs suggested a Williamstown summer apprenticeship. She had a good time, but “was never a theater nut.” There were other stock “jobs” over succeeding summers.

Isa majored in English at Bryn Mawr College. These were the years smart kids thought things would work out because they were smart. Few were on a career track. “I had no idea what I was going to do with the degree.” Feeling her professional future needed “structure,” she went on to get an MBA in Marketing.

Her first Manhattan job was marketing a product line of do-it-yourself car repair books for the Hearst organization. Not exactly arty. Missing involvement with theater, Isa decided to become a critic “as a gift to myself.” Here’s a case where not knowing the proper procedure was an asset. “I found a directory of press agents, called one and told him I was going to review his show. The agent said, ‘Fine, I’ll arrange for tickets.’ I realized I needed to review the show FOR somebody.” Assuming the inner city journals were well staffed, she randomly picked a newspaper in Brooklyn. A cold call to the arts editor elicited interest in the upcoming piece. “I kept sending them, until one day I was called to meet the publisher. ‘My wife and daughter used to go to theater all the time because the press agents gave us free tickets,’ he said, ‘…until you came along.’ So I was fired.”

The likelihood of getting a press agent to give a writer Broadway tickets without an extremely viable publication behind her, of the arts editor on a credible newspaper even taking a call from a completely unknown and inexperienced journalist, and of that newspaper reading and publishing the fledgling work is about as great as winning the lottery. Even though Isa worked without compensation, the story is exceptional. Were things that much less competitive when she started? Was it just luck? Has she a fairy godmother? Isa went on to find alternate venues. The same way. “I probably kept speaking to people who didn’t know they were supposed to say no.”

She approached a radio station in Orange County. “It needed to be one that fed the New York theater-going audience,” and a second in Sag Harbor where she and her partner have a country home. Isa has interviewed Edward Albee, Len Cariou, Marian Seldes, Mary Beth Hurt, and Amy Irving among others. Currently, her syndicated column appears in The Stamford Advocate/Greenwich Times, The Middletown Times Herald Record, and The Greater Philadelphia Newspaper Group. She’s a contributing writer to The Financial Times and The Jerusalem Post. The intrepid journalist has even had a couple of stories in The Times of India, once again going against protocol by telephoning the arts editor. (There’s a lesson here). Her civilian professional life has ranged from telemarketing to sales for a small television production company. For the last seventeen years, she has worked in newspaper advertising as a Senior Vice President at Miller Advertising Agency.

In November 2010, Isa Goldberg became the president of The Drama Desk (founded in 1949), a 130 member not-for-profit critic’s organization responsible for the only annual honors for which New York productions Off Off Broadway, Off Broadway and Broadway compete against one another in the same categories. Seven nominating theater critics have no vested interest in the results. This year they saw 250 productions in order to select those six or seven artists in each of the twenty-eight categories. The award ceremony takes place on Monday, May 23, at the Manhattan Center Studios, Hammerstein & Grand Ballrooms. It will be televised on Ovation Network on Saturday, June 4th at 9 p.m. as a 90-minute highlight special hosted by Tony and Drama Desk Award-winner Harvey Fierstein. Encore presentations will be broadcast Sunday, June 12th at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The Drama Desk holds networking events and at least one panel seminar a year at the famous Sardi’s Restaurant. Its spring gathering featured a discussion with screen actors about their work on stage. Panelists included Jim Belushi, Maxwell Caulfield, Stephen Kunken, John Larroquette, Dan Lauria, John Leguizamo, and Anabella Sciorra. The moderator was entertainment reporter, Robert Milling. Though members have priority, admission is open to the public. Upcoming panels will be posted to the Drama Desk web site. www.dramadesk.com. Isa has hopes the site will be expanded in the near future, pending financial support. “It’s a project,” she remarks, sighing, “and we’re an organization of volunteers.”

I asked the most satisfying part of being president of The Drama Desk. “It’s been incredibly enriching helping me to gain confidence as a leader and enabling me to give back to the community that has supported me.”

Excited by the diversity and quality of theater this year, Isa is looking forward to an unusually jam packed summer season. Upcoming productions include:

The Best is Yet to Come: The Music of Cy Coleman through July 3, 2011
59E59 Street Theaters

The Shags: Philosophy of the World- –Joy Gregory/Gunnar Madsen,  June 7, 2011
Playwrights Horizon

Death Takes a Holiday (the musical)—Maury Yeston,  June 10, 2011
Roundabout Theatre

Illusion—Tony Kushner, July 5, 2011
Signature Theater

Master Class (revival)—Terrance McNally, July 7, 2011
Manhattan Theatre Club

Bluebird—Simon Stephens (with Simon Russell Beale),  August 9, 2011
Atlantic Theater

Unnatural Acts—Tony Speciale,  June 14, 2011
Classic Stage

Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Nomad, Second Avenue near 4th Street
Favorite Place to Shop: Soiffer Haskin – private luxury discount sales www.soifferhaskin.com
Favorite New York Sight: Architecturally old neighborhoods
Favorite New York Moment: “I used to eat at a cheap restaurant on St.Mark’s place called Dojo’s which no longer exists…I was coming home from dinner with my partner and Madonna and Warren Beatty were coming towards us. I totally didn’t even see Madonna. I was so awed with how beautiful Warren Beatty’s eyes are that I just stared. My partner claims Madonna was surprised she was being ignored.”
What You Love About New York: People watching
What You Hate About New York: Crowds

Photos 1, 2, and 4: Barry Gordin

1. Isa Goldberg, at top

2. Patti LuPone with her Drama Desk Award for Gypsy

3. Isa Goldberg with Audra McDonald (photo: BroadwayWorld.com)

4. Drama Desk Panel at Sardi’s: Maxwell Caufield, Dan Lauria, Annabella Sciorra, Stephen Kunken, John Larrooquette, Robin Milling, Jim Belushi, John Leguizamo

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