24 hours with Penny Rowland, director of marketing at The Australian Ballet

In this "24 hours With..." The Australian Ballet's director of marketing Penny Rowland talks hosting World Ballet Day on Facebook Live, the Dancer’s Deli and how to translate ballet into a podcast.


Why do I always wake up before the alarm? I rush to get dressed, grab my cappuccino (I dream about the first cup!) from One Final Step – a quintessential Melbourne café that makes THE best coffee in South Yarra. It is also a not-for-profit that is passionate about sustainable social change – all the things that marketers love to see.


A quick glance at emails and social media to see what’s going on – also to test the temperature of how our dancers are feeling. They’re all ‘super-excited’ for World Ballet Day, which has become an important milestone in our annual calendar.

This one-of-a-kind global digital initiative shows audiences what it takes to be one of the world’s top dance companies, giving viewers an inside look into the athleticism and dedication that a life in ballet requires. It also gives rare insight into what it takes to bring a ballet to the stage.

I catch the #57 tram to work. Being a Sydney-sider, I still find it a joy and novelty to ride a toy-like tram to work each morning. I feel truly inspired hopping off the tram in front of the NGV. This month it’s plastered with giant billboards to celebrate the Dior exhibition. I’m in heaven.


I love the stillness of the office before my team rocks in.

I review the script for World Ballet Day, approve the final pre-recorded segments and triple-check that our principal partner Telstra has been acknowledged.


I’m thankful that our data guru Richard is also an early starter. We have the real conversation about sales and how we’re tracking across the business streams. The Australian Ballet is a unique arts company. We not only present our own programming – we tour around the country, around the world, in regional towns; we also sell our own tickets, merchandise, and exercise classes – you name it. We’re a complex beast and a mini-Ticketmaster in our own right.


I pop down to level five where the dancer studios are located. I greet the TV production team and this year’s host – TV personality/journalist Chris Bath. As we discover, Chris is a self-proclaimed fan-girl of both the ballet and our artistic director David McAllister. The feeling is mutual. The ebullient David McAllister (and he really is the most inspiring human being) also adores Chris. Positive spirits all round for our important day.

I return to my office to complete as much ‘normal work’ as possible before the noon broadcast.


Time for our weekly leadership meeting – managers across marketing, PR, digital, audience engagement, ticketing, record and broadcast. We’re truly grateful, and to be frank, relieved, as our 2018 season campaign ‘The power of imagination’ is surpassing expectations. The company is riding high after the biggest season in our company’s history in Melbourne with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – thanks to the genius programming by David. Lots to celebrate but incredibly high budget targets – three months to go until year-end.


Touch base with my teams that are now scattered across three levels of the building while The Australian Ballet Centre is being refurbished. The digital team will be monitoring all the social activity during today’s live broadcast while our record and broadcast team will be supervising the production crew.  


Must finalise invitation lists and review plans for our Sydney season of The Sleeping Beauty and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Tickets are tight as Alice is about to sell out and TSB will feature US superstar dancers Misty Copeland and David Hallberg. I speak with our PR manager Kate about creating further media moments.


Chat with Sakis (our in house fitness coach) who is preparing our principal lead Kevin Jackson for next year’s new production of Spartacus. Even the office staff are planning to ‘Get ripped for Spartacus!’.

I’m hoping that Sakis and Kevin will be guest speakers at our monthly departmental meeting for the team to gain a personal insight into their process. This production must be positioned as our blockbuster for 2018 and at this stage it’s only in early creative development mode.  


Always time for our creative meetings as design is everything. Check in with our senior designer Emily who is adding the final touches to the brief for Verve – our 2018 contemporary program. We felt that the initial shoot didn’t quite capture the essence so we’re going to expand our creative choices.

Sign off on two important contracts with one being for an exciting podcast series in collaboration with Nova Entertainment. Lots to think about ‘1. How do we best represent this multi-sensory art form? 2. How do we tell the human stories behind these super-human artists? 3. Which moments will provide a genuine insight while also producing an entertaining podcast?’


World Ballet Day begins – we are LIVE around the world thanks to Facebook and WeChat.

A pre-recorded package showing our dancers at the iconic Brighton beach is followed by an official Welcome to Country.

The dancers then strut their stuff! They take over with traditional morning class. This is a ritual in ballet. Every ballet company around the world starts each day in the same way and global audiences love to see the full class, which starts with 30 minutes of barre work and then escalates into more dynamic dance moves.

While World Ballet Day is on air, I take a few minutes out in the Dancer’s Deli. (Yes, that’s the actual name of our in house café, which is run by lovely volunteers who donate their time for the good of the art form).  The ballet audiences are the most passionate in the world. I’ve never seen anything like it. I could choose a healthy option but I go for scrumptious nachos – all made with love by the volunteers.


I return to my office to make headway on our new research project, which will provide insights for our next five-year strategic plan. I work closely with The Lab brand/cultural researchers as they play in so many diverse industries. Importantly, owners Neale and Paul are invested in our company and we collaborate on many meaningful projects together.

I bowl over a few staff one on ones and monitor World Ballet Day from my computer screen.


The whole company is invited to ‘wave’ goodbye to complete our live broadcast. Co-hosts Chris Bath and dancer Jarryd Madden pass the baton to The Bolshoi Ballet in Russia, where their live broadcast begins.


Time to thank everyone involved in WBD with champagne and hugs! So proud of Jarryd – he is a natural TV host. A career in media after ballet for sure. Everyone is exhausted but very happy as early signs show the viewership numbers have increased again.


While the drinks are flowing on level five, I return to the sales department for our weekly Customer Feedback update.  This team scales up by an extra 12 staff during our ‘subscription period’. Essentially, we pre-sell tickets for the following year – all within a three-month period. It’s critically important as it can bring in 50% of the box office income for the following year. This is a long-standing performing arts tradition that is still relevant.  


Back on the tram heading to my Melbourne home to review the broadcast and social media feedback from around the world.  

Usual phone calls to my family in Sydney, my partner in America and my dad in Europe. Love my Netflix before I crash at midnight.

Next morning

I celebrate by having breakfast at my corner café. Arrive at work a bit later at 8.30am. It’s a typical day at Ballet HQ – meetings, debate, food, laughter and tutus in the corridors.


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