Monday, November 2, 2015

Theatre: All in the Family

Editor’s Note: This is part of a recurring series that looks at the behind-the-scenes staff at South Coast Repertory.
SCR's General Manager Lori Monnier.
Lori Monnier’s twins were a few months away from being born when South Coast Repertory first produced A Year with Frog and Toad. It was 2009 and Monnier was two years into her job as SCR’s general manager.

Now six years old, Kate and Gigi finally will see A Year with Frog and Toad, along with their entire kindergarten class.

Monnier was seven or eight years old when she had her own introduction to theatre through a production of Annie. Her mother took her to see the show in Tampa, Fla., where the family lived at the time.

Kate and Gigi meet Larry Bates as Wilbur from Charlotte's Web.
“I loved going to that show because it was such a big event for me,” she says. Through junior high and high school, she came to realize that her love for theatre didn’t mean that she should be onstage, but rather in the backstage world—“I realized that there were many people who were better actors than I was, but I had much better organization and management skills, which are definitely needed in the theatre.”

Monnier earned her BA in theatre from Florida State University and then went to work: she assistant stage-managed at a variety of locations, did summer stock in Virginia and was in an apprenticeship program at a theatre in Philadelphia. Then she landed a job with The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where she worked several seasons as a production assistant and assistant stage manager and eventually joined the Actors Equity Association, the union for professional stage managers and actors.

But as much as she loved backstage work, she found the schedule wasn’t sustainable for one of her desires in life: to have a family.

So, she went to graduate school at Yale University, home to one of the nation’s top theatre program, where she earned an MFA in theatre management. In her final year at Yale, she met scenic design graduate student Fred Kinney, whom she married in 2003.

Following graduation, she was hired as general manager by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. She then received a two-year grant from the Theatre Communications Group, as part of its New Generations Mentorship program, to be associate managing director at Arizona Theatre Company and, after a short stint at a small classical-type theatre in Pittsburgh, she accepted the job at SCR and moved to California in 2007.

Gigi and Kate with Gander (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper) after a performance of Charlotte's Web.
Like Monnier, Kinney has found great creative and professional opportunities in California, including design work at South Coast Repertory, San Diego Repertory Theatre, Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara, The Chance Theatre and A Noise Within. He also is on the theatre faculty at California State University, Fullerton.

As general manager at SCR, Monnier negotiates contracts for each production and negotiates details for co-productions with producing partners (such as Berkeley Repertory Theatre for One Man, Two Guvnors). She also handles the theatre’s internal operations, including business and budgets, information technology, facilities and security, and the front of house staff.

“I think I was drawn to being a general manager because of the big picture view and the organizational aspect of what I do,” she says.

SCR has been a perfect fit for her in many ways.

“I love the vastness of what we do—the new plays, working with playwrights—and, of course, our history,” she adds. And, since 2009, she has an even greater appreciation for productions geared for younger audiences.

The first show that the family saw together was the 2013 Summer Players production of Seussical. Since then, they have brought the girls to see many of SCR’s Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) shows including Ivy +Bean: The Musical, Charlotte’s Web, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and OZ 2.5, as well as the Summer Players Conservatory shows Annie, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins.

TYA productions are opportunities for Monnier and Kinney, whose mothers were librarians, to read the books with Kate and Gigi ahead of each show.

“Gigi especially will say something like ‘Oh, I remember that!’ or ‘That wasn’t in the book!’” Monnier says with a smile. “Having those conversations with the girls is fun.”

And this production of Frog and Toad is especially sweet for the family because Kinney designed the sets. The girls are even more excited to show off not only where Mom works, but what Dad designed.

Fred Kinney's set for the 2009 production of A Year with Frog and Toad.
Monnier wants the girls to grow up with a balance of experiences for a well-rounded education and life. They go to the symphony family series concerts, like to dance, take piano lessons, sing in the church choir and like to put on shows.

“We’re proud of them!” she says.

In her office, while Monnier has adorned the walls and windows with theatre memorabilia and with Kate- and Gigi-created art works, she remains much-focused on the business of SCR.

“It takes a lot of work in the background to make the theatre experience come to life for our audience members,” she says. The success of the theatre includes not only what is seen on the stage, but everything that happens just out of sight: the backstage work in the scene shop, costume shop, props, wigs, paint and more; the facilities crew; the front of house staff; marketing, development, administration and more.

“I feel blessed to work at SCR because it’s such a strong and solid organization,” she says. “As a non-profit, our community has the chance to invest in our work and we have great support from that community and from our Board of Trustees. We revere our long history, but we also work in a forward motion and we do innovative things. It’s exciting!”

Look for her, Kinney and the twins in the audience this month at A Year with Frog and Toad.

Learn more and buy tickets.

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