Smithsonian theatre director savors life

Zarth Bertsch ’00 is director of theaters at the Smithsonian Institution. His career with film and theatrical exhibition began with freelance photography and an initial position overseeing technical operations at the IMAX Dome Theatre in the Science Station in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

As one of the youngest directors to be brought on board at the Smithsonian, he now oversees the theaters and planetariums for a diverse network of museums. The position involves a unique range of film industry and museum work, from advising on documentary productions and negotiating all film contracts, to overall strategy and management of a multi-million dollar business unit.

mycornell-bertschQ: What’s the most important thing you learned at Cornell?
A: Time management, and education in my career field. As I imagine is the case for many students, I initially learned about time management from what not to do, i.e., frequent procrastination. But One Course At A Time, and limited class sizes, really challenge you to be proactive on your academic work. It helped me build great academic, and later, professional skills.

Q: If you could go back and tell your 20-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
A: Savor every moment, it’s a great time! And don’t regret the tuition, it is worth every cent! Well, at least the times of month I do not see my loan statement.

Q: What person on campus had the biggest impact on you?
A: There were really a few key people. Faculty–Tony Plaut ’78 and Stephen Lacey ’65. What I learned from each of them extends far beyond academics (although I think Tony also learned some things about chess!). Friends—no doubt Sean Callahan ’00, a great friend to this day, and fantastic chef of Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain (Boston).

Q: Where would you most like to live or visit?
A: Living—I would love to have a small property and vineyard in France or Italy. I know, quite the thought, but we are dreaming, right? Visit—not just one place. I would really like to visit every continent in my life, and as many countries as possible, with a particular interest in experiencing the local cuisine.

Q: What qualities do you most admire in others?
A: The ability to find pleasure in the day-to-day minutia of our lives. It is so easy to get caught up in the routine or stresses, and you just need to be able to step back and smile. This is of course easier said than done, and I admire those that seem to make it effortless.

Q: What makes you happiest?
A: The people in my life. I have great friends and family.

Q: How did Cornell change you?
A: Choosing to attend college, and specifically Cornell, was really the first time I had set a major life goal and followed through. As I did not go straight from high school to college, and instead worked initially in Silicon Valley, I had every opportunity to not follow through with my goal of furthering my education. And while I always had fantastic family support, the choice to make college happen was squarely on my shoulders.