Theatre manager Jason Asbell juggles phone

Theatre manager Jason Asbell juggles phone

A day in the life of a juggler, er, theatre manager

When I was in my 20s I dated a juggler. He could keep anything in the air: balls, clubs, machetes.

When I was in my 20s I dated a juggler. He could keep anything in the air: balls, clubs, machetes. Not long after that I became a mother and something of a juggler myself: meals, schedules, hand-me-down clothing. I know a thing or two about juggling.

Nelson Civic Theatre manager Jason Asbell could teach the course on juggling. I’ve seen him juggle things at the Civic in ways that make flaming chainsaws look like nerf balls.

That’s a rare talent.

Recently, I asked him how his week was going.

“The weekend is normally relaxing,” he told me. “In theory, I have the program sorted out for the following week: I know the films, I’ve got the publicity lined up and the newsletter ready to go.”

Jason’s hands start to move unconsciously. One ball, two balls, three.

“Then on Monday, it’s all up in the air again. The film that was supposedly confirmed did too well nationwide the week before. So the distributor decides — just like that — to change the terms.

“I had put together a unique program that included some independent films, the documentary The Bus, a member Monday film, and then we’d roll into a film on the break, Guardians of the Galaxy. But now Disney required a two-week commitment, nothing else showing.”

Showing a film on the break — when it’s first released — often comes with restrictions that make no sense for a small community, so I can imagine how pleased Jason must have been to get terms we could live with, and then be able to plan a whole week of eclectic programming around it — and then poof! A distributor’s sleight-of-hand means all your balls come crashing down.

“The plan had changed with four days to go,” says Jason. “I was scrambling for an alternative program to lock down before noon and deal with the publicity fallout.

“Mondays too often turns into this. In this case I was able to push our film booker to push Disney harder with a sad luck story that we had made a two-week flyer including Guardians and we would be in a pickle if the program were to change.

“Disney came around at zero hour. But I have a few more grey hairs to show for it.”

If it were just about juggling chainsaws — er, bookings — Mondays would be hard enough. But that Monday Jason had new equipment coming in, and it turned out a separate circuit was needed.

So there’s Jason, trying to find an electrician on short notice, returning hard drives from the last films, catching phone calls from prospective renters, throwing calls out to suppliers, cranking out publicity, amending said publicity, lining up ducks and juggling them, too.

“This is when I ask everyone to support us in getting a three-screen theatre so we never have to have these mad programming dashes again — and I can hold onto my hair a little longer,” he said.

Three screens, of course, would solve the programming juggle, keeping distributors and Nelson’s eclectic audience happy.

With a 19-month-old at home with a penchant for hunting out unattended scissors and hot cups of coffee, Jason’s juggling abilities clearly serve him well in all aspects of his life.

At home, as at the Nelson Civic Theatre, support is everything.

“I work with amazing people,” he says, and it’s true: it’s easier to keep the balls/chainsaws/machetes/ducks spinning when you’ve got good people around you.

The Civic Theatre is a testament to juggling skills and a whole lot of good people helping us keep our balls in the air.

But for everyone’s sake, best to keep the chainsaws at home.

— Anne DeGrace is the past president of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society. To buy or renew memberships or find out about upcoming movies and events go to