The Man Behind the Magic

Michael Sande, theatre manager for the Performing Arts Department, sits on the set of the Winter 2016 production of <i>Fences</i> at Pierce College, in Woodland Hills Calif. on Nov. 22, 2016.
Michael Sande, theatre manager for the Performing Arts Department, sits on the set of the Winter 2016 production of Fences at Pierce College, in Woodland Hills Calif. on Nov. 22, 2016.

Draped over the crushed red velvet chair with a soft smile playing across his lips, Michael Sande unwinds inside the Pierce Performing Arts Mainstage theater after a chaotic afternoon. As the managing director for the Performing Arts Department at Los Angeles Pierce College, it is his job to make sure that shows goes on without a hitch.

The Seattle native began his tenure at Pierce 20 years ago. In 2003, he was promoted to managing director for the performing arts. However, despite his efficiency and finely tuned skills both on and off the stage, this was not Sande’s first career choice.

His original plan would have led him down a much different path away from the chaos and glamour of the theater.

While attending the University of Washington, Sande studied journalism and was an editor for the campus newspaper, The Daily.

“The passion to be a journalist started when I was a junior in high school and went throughout my college career and a few years after that, before I went to theater,” Sande said.

Sande went to college and received degrees in communications and history. After graduating, he received an opportunity to intern for ACT Theater in Seattle, Washington.

“They had an internship available for public relations,” Sande said. “It was something I felt that I could do.”

He interned at ACT Theater for nine months. During his time there, the public relations manager left the theater, but not before recommending Sande for the position.

“The person leaving highly recommended that I would be hired for that. To have his confidence boosted mine. That’s how I got the job,” Sande said.

The recommendation contributed to the push Sande needed to open the doors to pursue potential job opportunities with bigger theater houses.

Sande worked with Goodspeed Musicals, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, advancement, and creation of new theatrical works based out of Connecticut.

In tandem with the time he spent at Goodspeed, Sande worked with various theaters along the East Coast.

“After a few years, I decided I was a West Coast guy,” Sande said.

Sande then decided to go to Los Angeles, where he was offered a position as a marketing public relations director for the Pasadena Playhouse.

For four years, Sande worked for Pasadena Playhouse until the Seattle location for ACT Theatre called. The theater had moved to a larger venue and had an opening in their communications department.

It didn’t take long for Sande to accept the offer.

Accompanying the new job title was a variety of responsibilities Sande had never had before. He was accountable for the 50 plus employees in his department. While the work was enjoyable, Sande felt the urge to expand and try out something new.

Breaking away from previous endeavors, Sande pursued a career in the food and customer service industry.

“I use cooking as an outlet,” Sande said with a chuckle. “It’s like an artist looking at that blank canvas.”

Sande left the theater to work for various catering companies and restaurants. However, the work was sporadic and too inconsistent for comfort.

“The beginnings of it is always fun,” Sande said. “It gave me enough exposure to it to realize I don’t want to do this professionally.”

After his stint in catering, he went back to Los Angeles and got the job of managing director for the Performing Arts building at Pierce College.

Actress Leah Foster began working with Sande in 2013 when she enrolled in the performing arts program at Pierce College. She has been his student assistant since 2014.

“He is very structured but he is also very knowledgeable about theater,” Foster said. “He is a big part of the productions we have here.”

In addition to his role as the department’s managing director, Sande has taken on the job of play producer numerous times as the result of certain unavoidable circumstances.

Adjunct Instructor of Theater Eileen Gizienski teaches costume design at Pierce. She has known Sande since 2012.

“He pays attention to who the students are,” Gizienski said. “We just became friends and colleagues through working on shows.”

Gizienski and Sande will often indulge in their shared culinary hobby together. In recent years, they have cooked and prepared Thanksgiving meals with one another.

This family-like atmosphere and approachability is what has made Sande a central figure in the performing arts department. Both the staff and students have noted that the theater would be incomplete without him.

“Him not being here would be strange,” Foster said. “He is the face of Pierce theater.”