Backstage Life: Michael Schoenig
Michael Schoenig - Operations Finance Director
What is your role here at Lyric, and how long have you held the position?
I am the Operations Finance Director and I’ve been here for seven years. In this recently created position, I deal with all the financial aspects of the artistic and technical departments, which includes budgeting, financial reporting and payroll for the stage crew, scenic artists, wardrobe, and wigs/makeup staff. I also negotiate rental contracts for our productions going to other opera companies and handle the travel and scheduling logistics around that process.
What led you to work at Lyric?
I’d been working at San Francisco Opera for 18 years and was looking to relocate. I always wanted to work at Lyric because it's such a highly regarded company and I loved Chicago. But at the time, there weren’t any positions available. So, I moved back to New York State where I’m from and luckily, a year later my position became available. I applied and I’ve been here ever since!
What’s a typical day like for you?
No day is the same, but you can typically find me processing payroll, coding invoices for the finance department, and corresponding with other opera companies that are looking to rent productions from Lyric. I also spend a lot of time mapping out the technical and artistic budgets for the upcoming seasons. I consult with my colleagues in the technical and artistic departments to determine what is needed for each production, basically everything that happens on stage, including sets, costumes, the costs to ship productions, crew labor, and the costs for the lighting, sound, and scenic elements that each show requires. From there, I put together a final budget that represents the expected costs for each show, and Lyric uses that as a blueprint for our technical and artistic financial plans.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
There are certain things that need to be done based on a schedule, but outside projects often compete for that time. I have to constantly find a way to keep it all organized and make sure everything flows smoothly. I figure out the time-sensitive things that need to be done, and then handle everything else that comes up along the way. Sometimes the hours are long during the season, but I’m a morning person so I like to come in and get things done before most people are awake!
What keeps you committed to the work you do?
I’ve always had an affinity for the visual and performing arts, which means I have a commitment and belief in what we do. If someone asked when I was younger what I would be doing for a career, I couldn’t have imagined I’d be working for a world-renowned arts organization like Lyric. It’s a privilege to be doing what I do.
What’s something about your job that people might not know?
I’m one of the co-curators, along with my colleague Scott Marr, for the photographic displays seen throughout Lyric’s 4th and 8th floor office corridors, conference rooms, and backstage hallways, as well as those in the Mary B. Galvin Gallery, which is located in the lower-level Opera Club. It might seem odd that a finance person helps organize this, but my educational background is in fine arts so it’s actually a perfect fit!
Favorite Lyric moment?
Watching our stage, wardrobe, and wigs crew, plus everyone backstage, accomplish what they do day in and day out to get a production onstage. The audience doesn’t always get to see what goes into creating a show, but it’s so integral to the overall enjoyment and experience at Lyric.
Beyond opera, what are your other passions?
I love photography and oil painting. In both media, I enjoy capturing still life, landscapes, and portraits. I took a break for a while, but now I’m back at it. Photography and painting are a great combination because my photographs serve as a great point of reference for my paintings!
What are you feeling at the moment, with the cancellation of the RING cycle, and what are your warmest memories of the project as a whole?
Getting to know some of the creative team. The Ring's costume designer Marie-Jeanne Lecca used me to try on the actor costumes to get a sense of what they looked like on a live body. It was nice, even in this small way, to feel like a part of the creative process.
What's your favorite way to spend your free time?
My educational background is as a visual artist, so I like to spend time creating, whether it's painting, or photography. I'm also taking piano lessons.
What are you most looking forward to in the 2020/21 season?
I've worked in opera for almost 25 years, but there are operas I've never seen so that's always exciting. The 2020/21 season has two such operas, Lessons in Love and Violence, which is a new work, and Attila. I'm also looking forward to The Rake's Progress. The first time I saw the David Hockney designed production we'll be presenting was when I worked for San Francisco Opera. I also love the music.