Q: What age did you discover you were interested in theatre? Was there a particular event or experience that revealed your passion?
Having founded a theatre company, you can imagine that I have been asked, and asked myself, this question many times. The truth is, I don’t honestly know. My parents both loved to sing, so during every car trip, the car was filled with my dad singing melody and my mother singing harmony. You’d be surprised how many “oldies” to which I can harmonize. My dad also loved old MGM musicals. He’d watch whichever one he came upon no matter how far into the program it was. They took my sister and me to a few musicals here and there and although we all enjoyed it, I wouldn’t say art and culture was a priority to my family. My parents had both grown up in lower middle-class immigrant families who didn’t have the discretionary income for cultural pursuits.
I did play Mrs. Darling in Peter Pan in the 3rd grade. Maybe I got the bug then. I didn’t have a theatre program in middle school, but, since I loved to sing, I was in the chorus. When I got to high school, I was finally in a place with a wonderful theatre program, and not only did I perform (badly) onstage, but I got involved with marketing, ticket sales, and all the behind the scenes business, which thrilled me. From there, I was hooked. Recently, I came upon an episode of Sesame Street and was struck with the realization that it was likely largely responsible for my love of theatre. I was an early reader and was absolutely addicted to that show by the age of three. Filled with fantastical characters, fun puppetry, and fantastic “show tunes” (go look one up and you’ll see it’s a basic musical theatre tune), it was a great way to get steeped in the culture I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in at a live performing arts event.
Q: What might people be surprised to learn about you?
Although I grew up in Upstate New York, I lived for periods of my life in Florence, Italy, London, England, Paris, France, and New York City. My ex-husband was French so I speak French pretty fluently (or, at least, I used to!) and, because he worked (still does, actually) for many of the top chefs of the world, I have had the pleasure of eating in many of the top-rated restaurants in America and Europe (Which is mildly hilarious since I am now a gluten-free vegan…those decadent days are gone!).
Another thing that people are always surprised to learn is that I consider myself an introvert.
Q: How did you decide you wanted to found/run a professional theatre company?
In a certain way, it was a decision that found me. While I was in New York, I worked in commercial theatre for Broadway producers, working in management on musicals such as Beauty and the Beast, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on tour, and Sunset Boulevard. I helped Disney open the New Amsterdam Theatre in preparation for The Lion King before I got into directing and film-making. While live theatre is my absolute passion, I never truly loved working solely in commercial theatre which is very celebrity focused (sometimes despite the true casting needs) and rather devoid of a relationship with the audience. I always felt I wanted to start a not-for-profit theatre company and create a relationship with our patron base, which doesn’t make a lot of sense in New York, as there are more than enough already. At one point while I was working on Sunset the old, abandoned Biltmore Theatre came up for sale. I, of course, wanted to buy it and start a not-for-profit there and tried to get all my Broadway friends and connections to help me do it. They all thought I was insane to think that a 1,000 seat theatre with no orchestra pit could ever be solvent on Broadway and they talked me out of it. Today, it’s the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre owned and operated by Manhattan Theatre Club (I guess I wasn’t insane after all)!
After 9/11, I wanted to get out of New York. When I discovered Naples, truly by accident, it was love at first sight, and the rest of the decisions were made impulsively, passionately, and quickly. Once I decided to create what I dreamed would someday be a Tony Award-winning Regional Theatre, I never looked back.
Q: You are Gulfshore Playhouse’s Founder, Producing Artistic Director, and CEO. Can you discuss what that actually entails?
Actually, it entails a lot. As Founder, it means at some point early on in the company it was only me, so I continue to be naturally willing to vacuum the theatre, or help lick envelopes, or whatever. But today, I’m more stateswoman than the person who executes. As CEO I’m responsible for making sure we stay solvent while growing and expanding our offerings according to our strategic plan. I am the chief spokesperson for the company and supervise much of the senior staff. Along with our Managing Director, Joel Markus, we are also extremely hands-on with the design of our new Theatre and Education Center, which includes being involved in every detail from the inspiration for the design of the mainstage theatre, to the type of lighting we are using in the backstage hallway and everything in between. That means we’re also responsible for creating a gorgeous cultural center AND staying within our budget. Along with Kimberly Dye, our Chief Advancement Officer, and our Chairman of the Board, Steve Akin, I’m responsible for soliciting donations in order to complete our capital campaign to make sure the building becomes a reality. As Producing Artistic Director, I, along with the incredible people I lovingly term “Team Artistic”, select the shows for each season, have input and oversight over the education department, maintain the production quality of everything we put on stage, cast the shows with the best actors we can find, and I also direct several shows a year as well.
Q: What does a typical day look like?
Right about now my typical day entails sitting alone in my home doing eight hours of zoom meetings a day! But a typical day in the first sixteen years of Gulfshore Playhouse could include: attending a board meeting, going to lunch with a patron, talking with City Leaders about the project we’re creating, meeting with architects to work on some aspect of design of our new Theatre and Education Center, attending rehearsal (either to direct the show myself or sit-in on a rehearsal being directed by another and taking notes), chatting with a staff member about future planning of their department, participating in an interview for a new staff member, or member of the creative team, going to New York for auditions (or reviewing video auditions), reviewing marketing materials, invitations, press releases, or show art, writing a blog post, or being present at the theatre to greet people as they arrive.
Q: What is your proudest achievement at Gulfshore Playhouse so far?
I’m not sure I can answer that. Since I’m always in the process of running forward and trying to jump over the next hurdle, I’m not the type to stand there and pat myself on the back about a job well done. On the other hand, when you start a not-for-profit theatre company from scratch it’s all the little successes that are cause for pride as well, such as the fact that we’re still in business sixteen years later (and especially now!).
Each show I direct feels like a small triumph, and, since I always wonder if the show I just directed is, for whatever reason, the last show I will ever direct, opening night is always a happy affair (and sad, because that particular rehearsal process is complete).
I’m proud of the team we have built, the wonderful Board of Directors we have, our company culture, and the great art and education we’ve been able to provide to our region. But, so much of what has been accomplished has not been achieved by me, but by all of us. I can certainly tell you what will be the proudest achievement by far: when we open the doors on the Opening Night of our new, state-of-the-art theatre and education center, THAT will be cause for true celebration. And that will not be thanks to me, but thanks to the hundreds of people who contributed to the magnificent final product in their own unique and special way.