Centre freshman and government major, Dennis Barrett, gets up close and personal with artists during the season by working transportation during Norton Center performances.
Born in Boston, Dennis has plans to attend law school and become an entertainment lawyer after graduating from Centre. His experience driving performers and their managers gives him a dose of what artist relations is all about. Executive Director Steve Hoffman sat down with Dennis to chat about his experiences driving throughout the season.
SH: What did you think about being a driver when you were first offered this job?
DB: I thought it would be a really good experience to get out there and meet artists, especially because I want to be an entertainment lawyer. I actually got the phone number for Cloris Leachman’s manager, who told me to contact him in the next couple of years when I enter the entertainment field.
SH: Did you have expectations of how the artists might act or about driving in general since you didn’t know your way around Lexington and Louisville?
DB: I was really unsure about how the first drive would go. The first time I drove was for the manager of the Robert Cray Band. He’s a really laid back guy and he started telling stories. A lot of artists talk to me because they don’t want to sit in a silent car.
SH: So you’ve relaxed a bit since your first time driving an artist?
DB: I definitely have more confidence and am a lot more comfortable. I’ve never gotten someone who was rude or who didn’t really talk to me. Stanley Jordan was a very quiet guy. We did a little chatting but I understood he wasn’t comfortable with constant conversation.
SH: Have you had any past experience that helped you with this job? Do you research the artists before you drive them?
DB: I had a little experience back home with transportation. My mother worked in transportation for a preschool. She would drive the van and I would go around with her picking up the kids and putting them in the van. I thought that was very fun. They are two different things but-
SH: No, no. Artists and preschoolers can be…
DB: …very similar, yes. I do research on every artist before I drive so I’m not going into it blindly. I’ll read an article about them just to know what type of music they do and watch videos so I’ll know what the performance is about before I pick them up.
SH: What’s the process if you get assigned to drive an artist?
DB: Stanley Jordan was a different situation because it was during break and there were only two drivers still on campus. Chris, the Transportation Director, made the schedule, which eventually changed. So Dustin, the Engagement Coordinator, and I had lunch and worked out a new schedule. I worked with the other student driver, Amber, to decide who would drive each leg of the trip and we traded the keys back and forth. I think that was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far, because I was involved in the planning process and organized the driving schedule.
SH: Has this experience helped you towards your goal of being an entertainment lawyer?
DB: Your leadership workshop in the Nichols dining room last semester sparked my interest in liability and contracts. You also put in a clause in the artist contracts that there has to be some type of interaction with the students and I thought that was really cool because artists don’t typically interact that way.
SH: Give me an example of a unique or unusual encounter you’ve had on the job.
DB: One of the most unique experiences I’ve had was when I picked Cloris up from her hotel. She started making mooing noises in the car. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the situation and I couldn’t laugh because I felt it would be unprofessional. I looked in the rearview mirror and her manager and her son are sitting there completely straight faced like it wasn’t anything new. I had to compose myself and just keep driving.
Also, when I first met her at the airport she started telling me a joke: “A horse walks into a bar and the bartender goes, ‘why the long face?’” It wasn’t really funny but I gave a slight chuckle to show that I was paying attention. She turns and looks at me, because she was sitting in the front seat, hits me on the arm and goes, “you didn’t think my joke was funny?” I didn’t want to say that her joke wasn’t funny so I said that I was just paying attention to the road. I thought that for her first joke, my expectations had been lowered.
SH: How has this experience prepared you for graduation?
DB: I’ve had to take on more responsibility, because there’s no one with me when I’m driving. It’s definitely made me more independent and encouraged me to figure things out on my own.
SH: Will this opportunity be an activity that might be repeated after graduation?
DB: Absolutely. I’ve thought about applying to work at a theatre up in Boston because I’ve had a good experience here at the Norton Center. I would love to continue to work in this field.
SH: What words of wisdom would you offer to a fellow student who has this opportunity in the future?
DB: Relax and don’t panic. If something goes wrong, be very truthful with the performer. Use the resources here on campus that can get you to where you need to be. I would also tell them to be well rested because driving can be tiring.
SH: Anything you’d like to add?
DB: I really like what I do and I’m surprised that I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. I have the best of both worlds because I like to drive and I like to talk to people. Hopefully my knowledge and experience will continue to develop and in 7 to 8 years, I will be even more at ease with artists.
Centre College students operate in many capacities at the Norton Center. They take tickets, direct patrons to their seats, manage concessions, valet parking and artist transportation, as well as assist with load-in and load-out of performances, box office support and our marketing efforts. For more information about these opportunities, or to be in touch with a member of the staff, contact the Norton Center at 859-238-6688.