Mckayla Hull • College Times
Nile Presents owner Michelle Donovan is over describing how she balances motherhood with her Downtown Mesa venue.
“You wouldn’t ask a guy that,” the 2004 ASU graduate says during a conversation in The Nile Coffee Shop. “You do what you have to do to get the job done.”
Truth is, she’s one of the few female promoters in town. The 37-year-old has leased The Nile Theater since 2010. The nearly 100-year-old building, which began as a movie house, didn’t become a music venue until 1994. After closing for the second time in 2002, it reopened in 2010 under the management of Donovan’s Mantooth Group, now dubbed Nile Presents.
Donovan has had a longtime affair with music. In the sixth grade, she and her family moved from Cleveland to the Valley. At age 15, while working at Sammy B’s Pizza, she started throwing shows.
“I was working with a bunch of dudes who were in bands and were like, ‘Well, let’s do some shows in this pizza shop.’”
She hasn’t stopped since.
Through internships, with marketing companies and record labels, Donovan worked her way to the marketing manager position at The Marquee Theatre.
After graduating from ASU, Donovan was employed by R Entertainment, where she booked casino and arena shows. Her resume also includes stints with booking, merch, driving and babysitting for Girl Repellent and Where Eagles Dare. Eventually, she cofounded Mantooth Group, a booking and promotions company that The Nile Theater uses.
“My intent was never to do this for a living. I just kind of fell into it,” she says.
Since Donovan’s Nile takeover, she added The Nile Coffee Shop, a coffee shop and vegan eatery, to the front room of the venue.
“It creates activity in the building where there wouldn’t necessarily be activity and allows us to have a stronger foothold in this community and not be just some nightclub at night,” Donovan says.
The coffeeshop is used for community meetings, such as RAIL (Retail, Arts, Innovation & Livability) which, “puts more of a face on the venue and it makes it where it becomes more of a hangout.”
Donovan wants more for The Nile than a strong imprint in the community. She is trying to create a healthy workplace where women can see they are just as valuable as men. That’s relevant for her coffee shop, The Nile Theater, The Underground, 51 West or her stage labor company, Upstage Labor.
Being a woman in the music business, Donovan has experienced her own battles with being belittled for her gender.
“When bands come in; I booked the show, it’s my venue, I did all that stuff, but they’ll turn to my male counterpart who’s running sound. It’s not everybody, but you learn really early on that you have to be assertive,” Donovan says.
Hayley Rippy, tour manager for rockers Circa Survive and assistant manager at The Nile Theater, agrees.
“I would say 60% of the time if I go to a venue that I don’t work at, they automatically think I’m the assistant or the merchant seller; when 100% of the time I’m the only one corresponding with them before we get to shows.”
Donovan is quick to add she doesn’t call herself a feminist.
“I am a humanist,” she says. “Nobody deserves to be belittled or treated lesser because you’re male or female or gay or straight or black or white. Everybody should get the same plane of opportunity.”
She may be assertive, but she’s nurturing as well. A lot of her staff has been there for five-plus years and they created a family vibe.
“Because there’s a woman in charge, you get that inherently nurturing feeling or you want to protect everybody, at least that’s for me.”
In 2013, Donovan became a mother, but that doesn’t stop her from working. She frequently brings her baby to the club.
“I was here the night before I went into labor and then we were back here a week after for a sold out The Story So Far show,” she says.
“I don’t think being a woman should be an excuse to not do what you want to do. And I don’t think people should look at you like you’re lesser because you’re a woman because you can do just as much as if not more than your male counterpart.” CT
Nile Theater, 105 W. Main Street, Mesa, niletheater.com.