Antay Bilgutay

Meet the Staff

Antay Bilgutay – Director of Development 

By Theresa M. MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate

Antay BilgutayTell us a little about yourself.

I’m a first-generation American. My dad came from Istanbul, Turkey, to study medicine in Minneapolis, and my mom came from Hamburg, Germany, to work in the Bay Area. They met in San Francisco at a nightclub called The Red Garter. After an intense epistolary courtship, in which my father referred to Mom as his “Beatrice,” he convinced her to come to Minnesota and marry him. That’s my origin story: I was born from honky-tonk music and Dante.

I grew up in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis most famous for being a frequent clue in crossword puzzles. I attended Yale University, where I received my BA in Theatre Studies and English. My focus was on Shakespeare and his contemporaries. What I loved about Yale when I was there was how much theater got produced, and how the drive to make theater transformed everything from a squash court to a lawn into a stage. I played Tamora, Queen of the Goths, in Titus Andronicus in an abandoned train tunnel. I directed The Two Noble Kinsmen in a dining hall.

I lived most of my life in the Twin Cities. My fundraising career began at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and I have done development for a variety of organizations, including Minnesota AIDS Project, Intermedia Arts, and the Guthrie Theater. For the last five years I have been at Dallas Theater Center. It has been thrilling to play a part in the creation of ambitious new musicals there, including Giant, The Fortress of Solitude, and Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical.

Tell us about the first time you experienced live theatre and how it impacted you.

In seventh grade, I was in Mrs. Jerpbak’s advanced literature class. We read Macbeth. For a field trip, we went to see the Guthrie’s production of it. That was my first taste of professional theater, and it captivated me. It also troubled me. The way I imagined things in my head reading the script was so different than how they were presented on stage. It was the first time I really understood what “interpretation” meant – that people could read the same words that I did but get something so different out of them. It was an essential intellectual breakthrough for me. A few years later, I saw Livieu Ciulei’s brilliant and iconoclastic Midsummer Night’s Dream. That blew my mind. I knew I had to be involved in theater from that time forward.

What is your personal philosophy for philanthropy?

Philanthropy is about relationships. One of my favorite books is Howards End by E. M. Forster. The main character, Margaret, has a mantra: “Only connect!” When you bring together a donor or potential donor with an opportunity that is personally meaningful, that excites or inspires them, that rekindles a memory or gives hope for some shared vision of the future, that’s when it becomes fun. It’s like matchmaking. What is the right opportunity for the right donor?

This is true of businesses as well. When I started at Dallas Theater Center, there was a major company who had rejected DTC’s proposals three years in a row. I met with the representative and asked what they didn’t like about the proposals. He said, “We’re not a consumer brand. All your proposals were about marketing opportunities and putting our logo on posters. I’ve got 5,000 employees who work here, and I want them to have access to the theater.” So we created a customized program that afforded their employees access to a quantity of tickets year-round. We got the sponsorship, and it has grown every year since, because now hundreds of people at the company value DTC.

What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges facing theatre development today?

I hear a lot about artistic risk. How people don’t want to take chances. I don’t think that’s true. I think regional theater is undergoing a renaissance right now. Look at all the new work being generated! Here in Hartford, there are three world premieres in the lineup. Theaters everywhere are wisely investing in the artistic product, making sure that what’s on stage is the best it can be. That inspires audiences and that perpetuates the art form. Not everyone is willing to take on the risk involved in new productions, but almost always, there is someone who likes to be on the vanguard. You’ve got to find those people, but they’re there.

The harder part is what goes on behind the scenes. Theaters everywhere have had to scale back on their administrative functions. Fewer people do more work at lower salaries. There’s a great cost to that. Burnout and high turnover keep theaters from operating efficiently and effectively. Some foundations understand the need for capacity building in this regard – sustaining and enhancing operations – but it’s not very glamorous to most donors. You can name buildings or stages and endow directorships. It’s a little harder to endow an accounting clerk. Yet, the clerk is essential.

In addition to your work in development, you are also an award-winning playwright. Can you tell me how your writing experience affects how you approach or relate to donors?

That’s an interesting question. My first year in Dallas, I entered a new play competition for a theater, Teco, after I met the artistic director at a networking event. My play was selected. I was thrilled. I thought the piece would work well in the festival-style setting of the competition.

Now, I’m a 40-something gay white man, and I write in a fairly arch, stylized way. I came to discover that the theater is actually a predominately African-American theater located in a largely Mexican-American neighborhood. The talent pool was considerably different than the roles I had written. The play got laughs in the right places, but it felt off. The next time I entered the competition, I wrote for multiethnic characters, and then tweaked the dialogue to suit the particulars actors who were cast. The result was a much better piece, and I grew as a writer. I wrote out of my comfort zone and the rhythm of the dialogue was not in my personal cadence.

The lesson was very relatable to fundraising. You can’t go into something cold, without doing at least a little homework, and expect a great result. And you have to be flexible – be ready to change course mid-stream if the donor takes you in a different direction than you expected.

Your first name is most unique.  Would you kindly share the story behind it?

Well, my German mom’s name is Antje. (UNT-yeh). My Turkish dad’s name was Aydin (AYE-din). I was their first-born child. They decided to combine the first syllables of their names to get mine. What can I say? It was the 60s. I’ve accepted it. I’m the only Antay I’ve ever met. I like to ask, “What would your name be if your parents had followed this strategy?”

Because everyone inquires, my name is pronounced “AHN-tye BILL-guh-tye.” It rhymes. Technically, there’s an umlaut over the U in my last name, which would really make it more like “BILL-gyoo-tye,” but even I can’t quite get that inflection right.

What show are you most looking forward to seeing this season at Hartford Stage?

That’s an unfair question!  There’s nothing I’m not looking forward to. Rear Window is one of my favorite movies of all time, so to see this new stage adaptation will be thrilling. Also, I’m a big musical theater fan, so how do you top Anastasia? Actually, I can answer this. I really want to see Darko’s Romeo and Juliet. Everyone I’ve met in Hartford has talked about how Darko does Shakespeare. And since I’ve gotten this job, everyone in theaters everywhere in America has talked about how Darko does Shakespeare. I’m looking forward to Romeo and Juliet.

Do you have other talents or passions outside of working in theatre?

I am an admirer and collector of mid-twentieth century industrial design.  The designs of Russel and Mary Wright, Charles Murphy, and Eva Zeisel are especially interesting to me. I wrote two chapters in the book, Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty, and I have given talks on her work at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Minnesota Art Pottery Association. More recently, I’ve become addicted to Blenko Glass, particularly the designs of Wayne Husted from 1953-63.

On weekends, I like to travel around the countryside and visit antique malls and thrift stores in search of these things. I turn on Public Radio and listen to “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me” and “A Way with Words” while driving on back roads. Or I sing along, loudly and with questionable pitch, to whatever’s playing on Sirius On Broadway. That’s how I unwind. And truly, very little in life is more exciting than finding some high-design object for $3 in a dusty thrift shop.

I’m also a dog person. My partner and I have a seven-year-old blue heeler named Murphy (after the designer Charles) and a seven-year-old miniature Schnauzer named Charlie (no connection to the designer – we shortened his given name, “Charlie Me Boy.”).

What is your personal motto in life?

I think Oscar Wilde said it best: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”