DUNMORE, Pa. – Will Beekman realizes he’s lucky to have a job that’s allowed him to indulge his lifelong passion for music and sports. And the role Penn State played in helping him achieve his dream job isn’t lost on him, either.
For the past two years, the Penn State Scranton alumnus has served as the general manager of one of northeast Pennsylvania’s premier entertainment venues -- Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Twp. Prior to that, he was the longtime executive director of Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts.
Overseeing the operations and programming for a large arena like Mohegan is hard work under normal circumstances, but the past year has been a particularly challenging one for Beekman and his staff on account of the restrictions placed on the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, especially now as the healing power of live entertainment begins to reenter people’s lives on a larger scale.
“These venues are so important to people. And if I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that life is all about trying to find the silver lining,” said Beekman during a recent talk presented by Penn State’s northeast alumni chapters. “Overall, it really has been a fun career. From a young age, I’ve had a passion for live music and live events. So, to be able to do that now for a living is just an incredible blessing. And I do feel that where I am today has so much to do with my decision to go to Penn State.”
A Tobyhanna native, Beekman arrived at the Scranton campus in 1996 and completed his first two years of coursework here. For him, the decision was an easy one – the campus provided him with the perfect opportunity to attend a prestigious university while staying close to home.
He looks back fondly on many aspects of his time on campus, including the high-quality courses taught by faculty members like Paul Perrone, assistant teaching professor of English and Letters, Arts and Sciences programs coordinator.
“I will always remember Mr. Perrone. He was an incredible help to me as I tried to find my way through my early college years. I had a chance to see him again a few years back, and it was really nice to reconnect,” Beekman said. “That was very important to me at that time in my life. The campus was the perfect mix of big but small. I loved my time there, and I will never forget it.”
From there, Beekman headed to University Park, where in 2000 he completed his degree in English. Then, he decided to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in journalism.
“What I realized I was good at was using words,” he said. “Today, that skillset helps me daily. It sounds obvious, but the ability to properly express yourself, write a letter or simply communicate with someone goes a long way in showing your value in any industry. I’ll be honest, I’ve received resumes from job candidates who had the necessary skillset but were quickly set aside due to poor grammar in their cover letter.”
As it happens, Beekman’s decision to complete that additional degree led to his current line of work.
In 2002, he landed an internship at the former Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins minor league hockey franchise. Among other responsibilities, he did event promotions and wrote game recaps and feature stories about the players. By the end of the internship, the team decided to offer him a full-time position.
After several years with the Pens, Beekman returned to State College to serve as the marketing manager at the Bryce Jordan Center. During that time, the facility hosted concerts by numerous legendary musicians, including Bruce Springsteen.
A couple years into that job, Beekman and his wife, Katie, decided to return to NEPA to start a family. Today, they live in Duryea with their two daughters, Hannah, 8, and Allie, 5.
Katie Beekman makes for a good sounding board and unofficial adviser to her husband, given their jobs are quite similar – she’s the general manager of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders minor league baseball team.
“I’m incredibly proud of my wife and the career that she has built as a female professional in what has historically been a male-dominated industry,” Beekman said. “I think we feed off of each other, and I know we help each other. We have many local contacts and relationships in common, and we help each other out with various projects. If nothing else, we make for boring conversations around the dinner table. Our kids will vouch for that.”
Upon returning to the area, Beekman began his nearly decade-long tenure at the Kirby Center. At first, he was in charge of booking the facility’s shows.
“I had zero experience in that area, but I figured I’d figure it out as I went along,” he said with a laugh.
Eventually, Beekman was promoted to executive director and placed in charge of all of the Kirby’s operations. His success in that role led to his hiring at the arena two years ago, “although sometimes it feels like 10 years ago, given all that’s happened,” he cracked.
Through the years, he’s had the chance to interact with countless big names, including Springsteen, Jerry Seinfeld, Ringo Starr and the late John Prine. Obviously, these are great job perks, but Beekman admitted it’s often difficult to actually enjoy the events themselves, given all the things he needs to do to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.
“People say, ‘Oh, you get to see all these concerts for free.’ And it’s great, but I often don’t have the time to watch because I’m so busy,” he said. “However, those 30 seconds when I do get to stop and enjoy it, and you hear the crowd screaming, there’s nothing better than that. It makes you realize why you’re in this business.”
In a normal year, the arena hosts roughly 120 events, from Pens games and concerts to monster truck rallies and WWE wrestling. Of course, all of that bustling activity came to an abrupt halt in March 2020.
The initial months of the pandemic were a lot of “doom and gloom,” admitted Beekman, noting the arena’s 21-person staff dwindled to two. However, he used the downtime wisely by making several significant upgrades to the facility, including installing new floors and touchless technology features in the restrooms, replacing the old seats with new vinyl ones that are much easier to clean, and upgrading the HVAC and air filtering systems.
And live entertainment didn’t entirely vanish from the venue. Last summer, Mohegan was among the first entertainment venues in the country to host drive-in concerts.
This spring, life at the arena gradually returned to normal as crowds were again allowed to attend Pens games. Currently, Beekman and his staff are busy gearing up for a slate of upcoming shows, including country music icons Alabama on July 23, Disney on Ice Aug. 19-22, and stand-up comic Gabriel Iglesias Oct. 23.
“We were the first industry to stop, and the last to return,” Beekman said. “Now, we feel there is some light at the end of the tunnel. We’re making up for lost time, and we’re all going to great lengths to open back up in a safe way. It’s been a long journey, but we’re ready to be back in business. I’m a glass half full kind of guy, so I think we’ll get back to the way we did things before the pandemic. And I think we’ve all grown a lot from this.”
Despite the challenges of the last year, Beekman has nothing but gratitude for the career he’s built -- and the alma mater that laid the foundation for it.
“I think the education I received at Penn State is a huge reason why I am where I am today,” he said. “When someone asks me where I went to college, I stick my chest out and proudly tell them. Obviously, the work you put into the job that you get out of college goes a long way in determining your professional success, but that college education is what opens the door. And I like to think that the Penn State background helps push that door open a little bit wider.”