Inside aytm: Meet Lauren Johns (LJ)

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Posted Dec 14, 2022
Trevor Brown

Lauren Johns (LJ) does sales administration here at aytm and has been with the company for nearly two and a half years now. Over the years, she’s developed a wonderfully diverse skill set that she puts to work supporting the team in various ways. We caught up with her to talk a little more about what she does both inside and outside aytm. Have a read!

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do here at aytm?

When I first joined atym I was working in Client Support. The job was clear—learn how to use the platform and help others in doing so. Once I understood the inner workings of our product, I was offered the position I hold now. The job was offered to me within 3 months of my employment here and I have held this position for about a year and a half now!

Simply put—I work in Sales Administration. It’s a job that requires a lot of listening, but I get to be the “yes man” all the time. My job is purely focused on helping the team get what they need. So, I look at what resources we have and understand how to use them in order to set our Sales team up for success. 

The goal is to help the sales team get their work done, so my work spans everything from legal communications to processing invoices to hosting baby showers for the sales team. I’m also the first person to hold this role at aytm, so the scope of the job has been continuously growing since I started. 

How did you decide to get into the field?

I was working as the Manager of an events venue in Philadelphia called the MAAS building—an old brewery turned trolley car repair shop built in the mid 1800s. It was bought by a really great couple in 2008 and I worked with them to turn it into a multidisciplinary event space. Together we put the space to use as a wedding venue, recording studio, performance space, you name it.

When the pandemic hit, we had to put events on hold, and someone from aytm reach out to me with excitement about the work going on here, so I jumped on board! But working at the MAAS building gave me lots of opportunities to try new things—and a lot of my ability to do the work I do today comes from my time with them, but also from my experiences as an artist.

LJ in the Plants - From Almanac Dance Circus Theatre's show I hear you and I'd Like to Respond photo by John Hawthorne

You’re passionate about art? What kind of art?

I believe that art can change the world! In my other career, I’m a circus performer.

Being an artist is a wild privilege because the arts as a career is one of few that has the potential to do only good for the world. Art creates a space to explore possibilities and discover new futures together. And being a part of an acrobatics ensemble, we see our work as an opportunity to troubleshoot those realities together. 

Any more fun facts about you that may surprise people?

I have extra bones in my mouth.

I was a pageant queen.

I have five siblings and over 30 first cousins.

I can hold two people stacked on my shoulders.

LJ holds two people stacked on her shoulders
3 high (Shoulder Pic) - From Almanac Dance Circus Theatre's show I hear you and I'd Like to Respond photo by Johanna Austin

Wow. Ok, let’s talk more about the circus. What’s that journey been like? 

I‘ve danced recreationally throughout my life. When I was younger, it was the only thing that could hold my attention—so I danced all through high school. But people from my small town don’t necessarily go into the arts. One day I sat down and started looking at art schools, and the next thing I knew, I was attending The University of the Arts in Philly! 

Through dance, I always knew I loved movement, but I found that I made dancers nervous when I wanted to push the physical boundaries of dance. Dancers didn't want to be thrown into the air, but when I found the Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, it told me to throw people higher. I like that this company is Non-hierarchical in it's creation process, as it's a really important aspect of being in an acrobatics ensemble. This allows us to focus on our connections with each other.

Tell us about the creative process of an acrobatics ensemble 

So there are four “company members” who basically run the ensemble, but remember, it’s not hierarchical. We call it “holarchical,” because there are many connected bubbles or “holons” that function as their own whole parts. So within each project, there is a different holon. Each holon will have a team lead—and for larger projects, there may be multiple leads. The idea is that your position often changes within these interconnected holons, and that encourages you to empathize with and understand the importance of each role. 

We always begin our creative process with questions like, “what can we do together that we can’t do apart?” Consider the idea of riding a bike—sounds like it’s something you do on your own, but that’s not really the case. Someone has to envision the bike, someone has to build the bike, someone has to teach you how to ride, and only then can you ride the bike. We work as a devised theatre company so generally, we improvise and create a lot of material, both physical and verbal, and then cut it down to to hone the story we are trying to tell. 

We have learned the value of a role we call the "outside eye" This is kind of like a director, but they have an equal say in the final product as the ensemble. The thing is, we create work for an audience, so it’s difficult to build a show without someone at our rehearsals playing the role of the outside eye. Building a show is a constant back-and-forth between the outside eye and the performers in the ensemble. 

Performers dressed in white perform a complex acrobatics routine
Performers in All White - From Almanac Dance Circus Theatre's commission at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Into the Vault Photo by PMA Staff

You seem like a master of balance. How do you balance your careers and personal life?

This is actually the magic of aytm for me! The work-from-home structure has made it possible for me to support my elderly parent and my artistic career. The job travels with me from city to city when I’m performing or spending time at home with my dad. 

I think it’s also important to note: When folks hear you’re not making all of your money as an artist, they see it as diminishing the art. But art school taught me so much more than how to dance. It taught me that the stigma of having to be only an artist in order to be a “real artist” is sorely mistaken. We are multifaceted beings. Building a career with aytm that supports my art career as it does makes me feel like a successful artist. This doesn’t feel like my day job but it also doesn’t feel like my side hustle. I consider both things to be my career.

LJ and her family smiling at the camera

Which aytm Core Value is your favorite and why?

Somewhere between empathy and curiosity. I would say both of those values hold true for me as an artist and translate easily into my work with aytm. Someone I work with outside of aytm loves to wax poetic about how acrobatics is the perfect example of how society needs to work. Everyone must trust each other and everyone must work at their capacity—there’s equal value to every position within an acrobatics ensemble, and we have to cooperate to achieve the goal. A well-functioning team that gives and gets back creates a bond and a commitment to each other and our goal. Understanding that and each other is an important part of my success here at aytm. 

What advice would you give someone just starting out at aytm?

Never underestimate the power of a good team. We can achieve more together than we can separately. 

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