While the thousands of patrons who flood Assembly Hall to see a concert may only be attentive to a single person’s performance, there may be as many as 300 other people at the building whose work makes that performance possible. Sue Walker, assistant director for event management, is the person who coordinates the hundreds of support staff – from the backstage security guards to the attendants in the parking lots – that help orchestrate the basketball games, concerts, conferences and other events that draw crowds to Assembly Hall. Walker, who joined the university’s staff in 1990, earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations, with a minor in business, and a master’s degree in communications from Illinois State University.
Tell me about your job.
Once a show is booked through our director, I plan it with the front-of-house staff, which includes the parking staff, gate workers, ushers, backstage security, concessions workers and customer service people. I also am responsible for the in-house medical staff. I coordinate with the police, the ambulance, the caterers and the towing companies to make sure we have coverage if it’s deemed necessary.
For a basketball game, we could have as many as 300 people working in the building for a sold-out event.
How did the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the increased emphasis on security impact your job?
We really reviewed our security procedures, and we felt pretty comfortable that we didn’t have to make any major changes. Getting the public accustomed to the visual search at the door has been a gradual process, but the public has been really wonderful about it. We’ve had a handful of people who have voiced displeasure but everybody else seems thankful that we’re trying to keep everybody safe.
What are the challenges of your job?
There’s a difference between working with the retirees that we have and working with the students, but that’s part of what I love about my job: There are so many different people from all walks of life. I work odd hours at times: a lot of nights and weekends.
With the variety of events you host, do you run into some unusual situations?
Every event is different. Yes, there are some unusual things that happen but that’s what I really like about my job: It’s something different all the time.
A strange thing that happened was when Garth Brooks came for three shows. Here’s this huge superstar that you don’t expect will ever come out of his bus until he goes onstage. But he was actually helping the stagehands rig the show, and he was very active backstage throughout the day. He was just out walking around and helping out where he could. He was also one that remembered your name: Once he meets you, he knows your name for at least the rest of the day.
The catering is always kind of tricky because we’re the performers’ home away from home and they can be a little finicky. We get contract riders from performers that say, I want this to eat, and then they get here and they say, ‘Oh, we just had that yesterday, is there any way I can get something else?’ It’s a very delicate balance: You don’t want to tick off the entertainer but you don’t want to spend double on the meal because you’ve already got the roast beef or whatever they originally asked for.
A lot of my job is disseminating information and making sure that everyone – our staff, the guests – knows the details about what’s going on. But there are things that I have no control over, and sometimes we get information early on that the act decides to change the day of the event.
What do you enjoy doing away from work?
I’m married and have two children – ages 7 and 5 – a girl and a boy, so trying to be a good mom fills up my spare time. We spend a lot of time together as a family. I do try to be active in their school and help out when I can. I can’t be a room mother but I do my share of baking and field-trip duty when I can.