Join us in welcoming the new Events Manager Shayla Roland to the President Lincoln’s Cottage team! Executive Administrator & Editor Zach Klitzman sat down with her to chat about her new role, Lincoln, and her love of theater.
What is your new role here at the Cottage?
I’m the Events Manager. I oversee site rentals of various spaces, not just the Cottage, but also the new spaces we have access to in partnership with the Armed Forces Retirement Home. I also am creating systems to make it easier not just to give great customer service, but to make sure everyone is aware of what we need to pull off a succesful event. We want to make sure there is no confusion or hiccups. I’m also looking to explore new ideas for site rentals. Not just weddings and corporate retreats, but to use the new spaces to make the Cottage spaces sing, and the grouds sing. And to share it with as many people as possible.
Tell me a bit about your professional experience and background?
My background is in theatre management. Prior to coming to the Cottage, I worked as an Associate Producer at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota. My responsibilities included season planning, budget planning, and executing large and small scale events. It really was about keeping the organization going forward.
What did you think of St. Paul?
I really enjoyed my time in St. Paul, and lived there for about two years. I enjoyed the city and Minnesota in general, including the lots of green spaces. What brought me back to the DC area was family. I’m a military brat but we’ve lived in Woodbridge, VA for a while. My parents are here, some siblings are here. I realized family is really important.
What was it like growing up in a military family?
Being in a military family meant we moved around a lot. I was actually born in Landstuhl, Germany. Moved to Texas, Florida, Arizona. And did a small stint in Utah, before coming to Virginia in 2001. Since we moved around a lot, I made the decision not to move around too much as an adult. I went to college very close in Virginia, at Mary Washington. And I started my career in DC. So going to Minnesota was a big change.
Germany to Texas to Utah to Minnesota with the DC area sprinkled in, certainly is a journey. Do you speak German?
A little bit, very little, but I’m in the process of taking classes. I took German classes in Minnesota, and am looking to pick that back up again. My brother is in Germany right now, and so I’m trying to learn his language.
It’s funny you mention Mary Washington, since we have two other staff member who attended its Preservation program. What was Mary Washington like for you? Especially since there was a Civil War battle in Fredericksburg, did you do any history stuff while there?
I went to Mary Washington for a degree in psychology. That first week I fell into theater, and realized it was possible to get degrees in both, so I double majored. And that’s what brought me into my theater journey. When I was in college it was a bit of blinders with regards to the Civil War. But I did learn about the Civil War when I worked at Ford’s Theatre.
What did you do at Ford’s?
I started working right out of college in Stage Management, then transferred to admin offices. I assisted in casting and season planning, and the thing I was most proud of is being the key coordinator for the 150th Anniversary of the Lincoln Assassination Commemoration Events in April 2015.
We did our own commemoration of Lincoln’s last ride in 2015. But I’m sure the Ford’s Theatre commemorations were huge. What did you do for that?
It was a year and a half of research, going to battlefields and seeing what they did for their own 150th celebrations. It was about creating an experience during April 14th and 15th that commemorated the man but also provide that closing experience to the people who spent the last several years travelling to all the Civil War sites (during the sesquicentennial). Giving them an experience that feels whole and marked this tipping point in our history in the right way, was really a driving force in terms of creating the 36-hour experience that we did.
What are your other favorite museums and historic sites?
The National Museum of African American History and Culture. I recently went in May of this year with a group of my family on Mother’s Day. To really be steeped in that history in a museum setting, and to really slowly walk through what it means to be black in America, it’s really moving. Both infuriating and inspiring. It really informs being at the Cottage, the extent of the good that was done here.
What got you interested in history in the first place?
I enjoyed history classes while in high school and college, but I never really saw myself doing history. I’ve enjoyed working at sites that pertain to American history. I listen to a few more podcasts that are about history, and how our government works.
That’s great, what history podcasts are you listening to?
I commute a lot, something like 3 hours a day. So I listen to a lot of podcasts. I got into Radiolab early this year. I’ve been listening to More Perfect, which looks at landmark Supreme Court cases, and really looks at our constitution and what it means today.
What’s something that people might be surprised to learn about you?
Let’s see. I worked at Target for two years, including a year and a half in Minnesota. I worked 4am to 9am, unloading trucks. Oh and I don’t like to be bored. For example, when we were doing 1776 at Ford’s, it can be a slow show back stage. So I created a signs for a character, and then taped them to the back of the stage flat. So by the end, I had 81 signs that took all of the stage flat on stage left. People would do tours and then see all these signs that say “Cheer up” or “You got it tiger.”
Love it. Kinda half prank and half encouragement. Switching gears back to the Cottage, what’s your favorite thing about Lincoln?
I appreciate how stern he was. When we think about Lincoln, yes he had a good heart, and he cared deeply for the country, and the soldiers. But in the end he was the President and had to make tough decisions, and stuck by that. For example, we always talk about how compassionate he was. But at the same time, he’s still a man who sent thousands of soldiers to what he knew was their death. He made the tough choices to move the country along. Looking at the whole of the man, and sussing out the nuances, I really enjoy that. He is a person with all those dimensions.
What’s your pitch for someone to host an event at the Cottage?
President Lincoln’s Cottage is a unique space in the District, definitely a hidden gem. Where else can you find this much green space, and room to let your imagination run wild? To have your event be in the same spaces where President Lincoln had really transformative ideas that shaped our country… what else could you ask for?
For further questions about Site Rentals, beginner German, or Batboy the Musical, email Shayla Roland at SRoland@lincolncottage.org, or call 202-688-3732.