New executive director plans to attract younger audiences to The Lyric Theatre
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
By Ginny Beagan
3:30 AM, Sep 2, 2015
Kia Fontaine, the newly appointed executive director of The Lyric Theatre, has plans for the historic downtown Stuart venue.
“I want it to grow beyond the stigma that we only program for older people,” said Fontaine. “I want to expand its radar to attract 20 and 30 year-olds.”
That the 34-year-old took the reigns this spring says a lot. Women hold less than 27 percent of the upper management positions in America’s nonprofit theaters according to a study by Wellesley Centers for Women.
“To a certain degree, I feel like I’ve beaten the odds on many fronts, especially my age,” Fontaine said.
The lifelong Fort Pierce resident’s love for performing arts started early. The memory of her first performance, at age 6, singing with Treasure Coast Opera Society still raises goose bumps on the petite redhead’s arms. Fontaine sang and played guitar throughout her childhood and at Fort Pierce Westwood High School.
Fontaine’s organizational and administrative skills became apparent early on and she applied them in as many entertainment related experiences she could. Helping her father run a small production company as a child; working at a used CD shop through high school, volunteering for the Fort Pierce Jazz and Blues Society. At 20 years old she played a major role, as logistics coordinator, in planning the Fort Pierce Centennial celebration, which turned out to be one of the largest events in the city’s history.
“Anything that had to do with the arts and entertainment, I was drawn to it,” said Fontaine. “I volunteered, joined and participated in everything I could, never knowing this would come of it.”
Ambitious and pragmatic, Fontaine switched her college major from music to business administration and marketing, earning her degree from Florida Atlantic University.
“I didn’t want to be a starving musician.”
Fontaine worked full time for the city of Fort Pierce while she was a full-time, evening college student. Starting at age 17 as a temporary file clerk and leaving nine years later as the historic preservation officer.
The director of operations position opened up at The Lyric Theatre in 2008 when Fontaine was feeling disheartened by the Historic Preservation Board’s agreement to demolish the McCarty House, one of the oldest buildings in Fort Pierce. Longing to be back in the performing arts field, she applied for the job.
“I realized I was no longer making the green grass greener,” Fontaine said.
At the interview, John Loesser, Lyric’s executive director, cautioned Fontaine about working for a nonprofit. He told her the hours were not nine to five but nine to exhaustion.
Despite the warning, inferior benefits package and a $10,000 pay decrease, Fontaine took the job.
Two years later, she was promoted to assistant executive director.
“I’ve always been a believer that everything happens for a reason and happens when it’s supposed to.”
Handling everything from artist hospitality to building maintenance, Fontaine often was the first one at the theater and the last one to leave. Sometimes working as many as 35 consecutive days.
“If I’m not here, I’m thinking about being here,” Fontaine said. “I never wanted to count the hours or the days because I never wanted to think of it as a job.”
The demanding schedule meant that Fontaine had to abandon her plans to get her Master’s degree.
“John warned me of that too in the interview, and he promised that in five years he would teach me everything and more than what I could learn at school,” said Fontaine. “And he kept that promise. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.”
Fontaine, whose first name means ‘ocean’ in Hawaiian, had to give up much of her beach time as well as her hobbies of roller derby and volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I’ve sacrificed a lot of my personal interests,” said the avid paddle boarder. “But we all do, for something we love. I’ve never looked back.”
Her recent appointment was unanimous by the board of directors, who were working on a succession plan for 65-year-old Loesser, who has been in charge for 16 years.
“Kia routinely demonstrated that she not only stayed on top of the game but stayed ahead of the game as far as the theater goes,” said Paul Shirley of Palm City who has sat on the board of directors at The Lyric for more than five years.
“The whole board is ecstatic to have her. I see her as someone who can lead us for the next 10 or 20 years.”
Loesser remains as the artistic director and will share the programming role with Fontaine, who will focus on a younger demographic.
“We really work well as a dynamic duo,” Fontaine said of her mentor.
She’ll now be responsible for The Lyric’s day to day operations marketing and sponsorship packages.
“It’s a totally different role now, going from being part of the backstage magic to administration,” Fontaine said.
When discussing her vision for The Lyric, Fontaine refers to the downtown theater as a cultural cornerstone.
“So many young people want to leave the Treasure Coast when they graduate. I want to give them a reason to stay and raise their families here,” she said.
Along with broadening the programming to include family-friendly shows such as “Poodleful” and the “Brad Ross Family Magic Show,” Fontaine wants to grow the outreach program, which brings performers and performances to local schools.
“If I had not had that exposure to the arts at a young age, I would not be where I am today. It shaped me. I want to make sure our community continues to have the same opportunity. I’m back to making the grass greener.”
Comedian Kathleen Madigan, actor Jeffrey Tambor, Tony winner Faith Prince and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love are some of the performers coming to The Lyric Theatre this season.