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Staff Spotlight: Shawnet Sweets

Posted on: February 3, 2021

We’re honoring and showcasing the invaluable contributions of Black artists and individuals to the opera world all February long. And while we look around at all the doers and shakers in classical music, we’re taking a moment to spotlight some of our own staff who keep the opera wheels turning right here in Los Angeles.  

Shawnet Sweets | First Assistant Treasurer, Box Office

If you’ve given us a call in the last 35 years, chances are you’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Shawnet Sweets. Aside from being a bubbly beam of light around the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Shawnet is our First Assistant Treasurer in the box office (and one of our most longstanding employees). Since we have the absolute pleasure of working with and knowing Shawnet, it’s only fair that you all do too. Get to know her a bit more below. 

Introduce yourself!  

I’m Shawnet Sweets, the First Assistant Treasurer in our box office. I’ve been working the phones and making calls since 1986 but came on full time in 1996. I loved opera and wanted to be as close to the art form as possible. I also wanted to help as many people as possible who might not ever see an opera or didn’t think it was for them. 


Our First Assistant Treasurer, Shawnet Sweets

Can you talk a bit more about your job for those who might be unfamiliar 
The box office handles everything that is ticketed. Our main purpose is to sell tickets, either over the phone or at the walk-up windows. We process subscriptions and donations, handle the customer service phone lines, balance our finances at the end of the day. We also provide a “roving box office” for events that are off The Music Center campus like our annual simulcast, Off Grand performances at REDCAT or the community performances at the Cathedral.  

But the most exciting thing we do in the box office is working the window at performance times. This is where all the action is. We are part of the front house team and work closely with the house manager. We are also in close contact with the artistic team at show time and are always ready to move seats or provide seats or trouble shoot any seating issues that might occur. 

What does your day to day look like?  
Being a supervisor, I make sure the staff have all the information they need about what’s going on sale and what’s happening with the company—and in each department—in case they have an event coming up. Then I make sure the financial reports are processed and sent to our finance department. I’ll also help the different departments with their seating needs. If there's a new event or production, either I or the box office treasurer, Shane, will build the event and prepare it in our ticketing system to be up and ready for sale. 

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Shawnet with her fellow box office staff

During the day, I might have to troubleshoot a banking issue, issues with subscriptions or talk to subscribers and customers who might need a supervisor's touch. The LAO box office is also the box office for the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Dance at The Music Center, plus any lease events that have booked the Dorothy Chandler for their events. So, a day in the box office can be extremely busy and challenging when you have to balance the needs of opera, dance and the Master Chorale, especially when they both have performances over the same weekend 

What do you like most about it? 

What I like most about my job is being one of the connectors between people being wherever they are and attending an opera. I love the energy that people bring with them when they attend a performance. I love to be one of the first faces they’ll see representing LAO when they arrive. Its our job to make sure the experience is pleasant for them from the moment they step onto the plaza, pick up their tickets and are scanned into the door.  

Also, I do like it when we can take an unpleasant issue, say someone comes up to the window and says, Hey, someone is sitting in my seat," or "I can’t see the supertitles from where I am," or "I asked for an aisle but I’m in the middle.” The customer is so sure we won’t do anything about their problem, but then we get to surprise them with a solution beyond what they expected. We’re all a family: the staff, the company, the house staff and the customers. There’s a solution for everything. 

Let’s talk opera. Who are some of your favorite composers?  

My favorite composer is Handel, second is Mozart and Verdi (they are both second) then Puccini and Donizetti are both third. 

Do you have a favorite production you’ve seen here throughout the years? 

Yes!  Actually a few.... But my favorite of all time is Gulio Cesare. It starred my favorite singer Elizabeth Futral, who I would follow all over the country to hear sing. She is the reason I coined the phrase "opera hopping, and theres an article about my passion for her and opera in the LA Times 11/29 2003 called Fandom of the Opera. 

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Shawnet featured in the LA Times' piece "The Fandom of the Opera"

Anyway, there's an aria in Cesare called V’adoro pupille that Ms. Futral sang from a high scaffolding, and the scene was stunning and breathtaking. I’ll never forget it. Also, theres a scene where Cesare sings a duet with a violin. Its called Se in florito ameno prato” and has something to do with a flowery field or meadow. After hearing this dynamic duet between the countertenor and the violin, I decided I wanted to learn to play the violin. So some years later, I’m still taking lessons. I just can’t get my violin to sing like that 

Which show in our 21/22 season are you most excited to see when we open up again? Or what, in general, are you looking forward to about LAO’s return to the stage?  

The main thing I’m looking forward to is the sound of the audience in the lobby during the ingress and then the chimes that lead everyone into the theatre. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until we’ve been away from it for so long. Production wise, I’m really excited about Alcina in recital since Handel is my favorite composer. I’m also looking forward to Javier Camarena in recital. I saw him hit those 18 highs C’s in The Daughter of the Regiment and my jaw hit the floor. I was like … Oh no he didn’t.... Oh yes he DID!” Then Brightness of Light because I’m an O’Keeffe and Stieglitz fan. 

In all your years working at LAO, do you have a favorite memory or moment you hold dear?   

Theres a few actually, but heres one that I’ll always cherish and think of often when I’m around the theatre. My grandmother died in 1977. She’s the one who nurtured my love for opera when I was very little. She always said we would go to a performance together, but she died before we could. So, when I attended my first LAO performance back in 86 or 87, I took a copy of her photo and held it all during the performance, which I think was Madame Butterfly. Then afterwards, I left her there tucked in between the seats. It made me so happy to share a live production with my grandmother.  


The photo of Shawnet's grandmother that she brings to opera houses all over the world

Now, every time I go to the opera, no matter which house it is, I take her photo with me and leave her behind. I’ve left her everywhere, from LAO to the Metropolitan Opera to the Palermo Opera house in Italy. But knowing her love for LA— and if only she lived long enough to physically sit during an LAO production with me— the Dorothy Chandler was the perfect first place for us to attend together in spirit. I know that’s sappy, but it makes me smile especially on the inside.  

Two more moments are when I went to see Giulio Cesare on my birthday and some staff members arranged for me to go in and meet Elizabeth Futral. I almost had a heart attack. And a few years ago, a colleague who used to work in the artistic department walked Lawrence Brownlee right into the lower box office and over to my desk. I screamed and almost fainted like those schoolgirls in old Beatles footage. I even have a photo he took with me that hangs in my office. 


Shawnet and Lawrence Brownlee

Is there anything else you want our audiences to know about you, your job, the box office, or whatever else you can think of? This is your moment!   

I want everyone to know that the LAO box office team is there for them. It’s our main mission here to welcome them, help them and do anything in our power to assure that their LA Opera experience is one that they will always remember and cherish. To the box office, the audience is the heart of the LAO and we can’t wait to have them attend the opera again.