After earning his master's degree at the prestigious Boston Conservatory of Music in 1995, Joe Machota '93 began a successful career in musical theatre (see sidebar). Yet after 10 years of starring in Vegas productions, national touring company musicals and Broadway hits, Machota turned away from the spotlight to begin a new career as a talent agent.
"Understanding the business side of musical theatre is how I continued to work," Machota explains. "I've always felt that my real strengths are my networking and people skills."
So, while singing and dancing his way through "Mamma Mia" on Broadway each night, Machota interned at a friend's talent agency during the day. Even though his day job paid only $100 a week, Machota says after his second week interning, "I knew this was what I wanted."
Although his friend offered to hire him full-time, he decided to pursue a job with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), a prominent talent agency representing entertainment and sports figures.
"They were planning to expand their New York office and wanted to hire someone with knowledge of theatre," Machota says. "I applied online and was hired six weeks later."
Starting in their lowest-paid position as a floater, Machota was told there would be no opportunity for him to go through CAA's training program to become an agent, meaning he would have no chance to work with the agency's clients. But within a year, he earned his way into the training program and after just eight months as a trainee, he was working as an agent. In 2010 and again in 2011, he was included in the list of Broadway's 50 Most Powerful People on BroadwaySpotted (a social networking site devoted to theatre), and was also named to Out magazine's 2010 "Out 100" list of influential LGBT members.
Now, Machota excels at helping clients win the type of plum roles he once sought. Working in CAA's talent department, he strives to create the perfect partnership, mating performers currently under agency contract with theatre projects looking for just the right person to fill a role.
But he's also on the lookout for fresh faces to bring on board. "Part of my job is keeping an eye out for talented people who would be a good fit for our agency," he says.
Joe Machota's theatre credits include:
- 1996 hired to understudy Michael Crawford in the MGM Grand production, "EFX," in Las Vegas.
- 1996 left "EFX" to star as Joseph in a touring production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
- 1998 traded his coat of many colors for a pair of dancing shoes, starring in the lead role of "Ren" in the first national tour of the musical, "Footloose."
- 2001 originated the role of "Sky" in the Broadway production of "Mamma Mia."
What made Machota such a good fit as a talent agent? He firmly believes the education and experience he gained at Millikin are the keys to his success.
"In some ways, I've never worked as hard as I did while I was a student at Millikin," he says. "Those professors work you 24/7, and that's such a great training ground for the real world … it's really paid off for me."
Machota also credits Millikin professors with helping him become a stronger, more versatile performer, which in turn aided him in his transition from the stage to his new career. "I cannot rave enough about the faculty at Millikin," he says. "From [faculty members] Lynn Snyder to Barry Pearson, Laura Ledford and David Golden - they're amazing. I also appreciate Darlene Harshbarger and Gary Shull, who taught dance. I was not a gifted dancer! We all know our strengths, but they really helped me work on my weaknesses. Their emphasis on being a well-rounded performer was such a huge help to me."
In an effort to "pay it forward," Machota has returned to campus as a guest artist, speaking with students and faculty about careers in musical theatre. "Musical theatre is a competitive landscape, and Millikin provides a healthy way to prepare for the real world," he says.
"There's constantly something to audition for - lots of productions are going on all the time and you're encouraged to perform from your first year. When you graduate, you're so prepared for all the auditions and competition required to get a job."
In recognition of his loyalty to Millikin and in celebration of his successful career, he was named Young Alumnus of the Year in 2003.
"My most treasured award is the Young Alumnus Award I received from Millikin," Machota says. "To have that recognition from a place I so cherish means so much to me." ?
by Margaret Friend