I started working in theater when I was 11 as punishment for setting a car on fire. The idea was that the streets would be better off if I had something to do after school that didn’t involve me looking for trouble. My first show was something about a witch turning kids into Chocolate Chip cookies. I played the witch and made the cookies and my outfit and ended up as emcee when we decided to tour it to other junior highs in the area. My next show I stage managed, the next one I assistant directed. And always I was making stuff for the shows like costumes, props or set pieces. A workhorse was born.
The local high school had a huge well appointed stage and a dedicated Drama Teacher and Choral director who were responsible for putting on five shows a year. My theater jail sentence ended with the ninth grade but a few months into high school I was back to my bad old habits. The drama teacher suggested that I work on the big all school musical to keep from flunking English. I worked on every show we did after that until I graduated. By then, I was working at the Colorado Costume Company in downtown Denver and making costumes for drag Queens on the side.
After a few years of picking up the odd community classes in philosophy, political science, Russian, German and Spanish I applied to Drake, to get serious about studying theater. I wasn’t all that interested in studying at Drake, but I really wanted to go to The National Theater Institute (NTI) at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford CT. Drake was one of the few colleges that sent students there on special scholarship.
After directing two student productions and costuming 19 productions in four semesters, I was chosen to attend the NTI where I studied directing and acting and designing with award-winning professionals. I was truly hooked. It was to be a life in theater for me.
My next stop was Santa Barbara, where I worked for a professional all woman (mostly lesbian) repertory company. I was their Outreach Director, Stage Manager, company actress and occasional designer. During this time I also became a maker of giant parade puppets and a signing actress performing all along the California coast including a week at Disneyland. I was invited to audition for the National Theater of the Deaf through connections made at the NTI which took me back to CT with a new husband in tow.
I didn’t make the company but I started making their costumes and opened my own costume house where we built costumes for Regional theaters, off Broadway, and even two Broadway productions. I joined an all male (mostly recovering alcoholics) theater company that wrote, directed, and acted their own productions. We would workshop the shows in a local bar that was famous for being O’Neill’s favorite watering hole then we would perform them at what is now the Garde Arts Center but then was a receptacle for wayward pigeons and starving sober artists.
Thus began my love for writing and directing. And a new baby son.
Something about having a baby and not wanting it to turn out like me made me start working with troubled kids. I started directing plays for Big Brother Big Sister. I directed school productions through the O’Neill Arts in Education Program. And the Christmas Pageants at my church, which they are still talking about. Eventually in a total money grubbing move I decided to move back to California, where I could make four times money for doing the same things, never once considering it takes four times more money to live there. San Francisco held a piece of my heart from my previous time in California so I settled there and took over a professional dance studio, managed a small theater and spent three years making Brian Boitano’s costumes all at the same time. Then I took over as Executive Director of Dance Through Time, a company with a 48 year history and 16 members who were touring nationally at the time. I wrote and directed three new shows for them and hired a whole new younger company, keeping the senior company on as teachers and choreographers. Then I passed them on to a newer younger ED and I went after my big dream of designing costumes for opera and ballet.
That work was so thoroughly satisfying to my artistic soul. I designed a traditional Tosca, Carmen and Midsummer Night’s Dream, a killer Il Trovatore, a rave version of Don Giovanni, and the world premiere of Our Town the opera. I got to tour to New York, London, Berlin, St Petersburg, Moscow, and a long stint in Peru designing for their Ballet Nacional. I turned 50 standing on top of Machu Piccu and asked myself, where do I go from here? My heart went back to that troubled kid who couldn’t stomach the choices she had until someone pointed out a brand new idea, theater.
I moved to North Carolina to be near family and reasonable rent and started teaching at homeless shelters and after school programs and the occasional Indy Film class. Then I got a call from that son I mentioned a while back (now with 2 sons of his own and an awesome wife); they were moving to Des Moines and hadn’t I always said how much I liked my nearly 2 years there and wouldn’t I like to watch my grandsons grow up? He didn’t have to ask twice.
In Des Moines, I have found the awesome combination of DMYAT, young artists who have found theater and the Des Moines Art Center’s Access program where young people are finding art of all kinds and my very loving and supportive family. And reasonable rent.