Managing the Creative Process … A Conversation with Meredith King Managing Artistic Director for Northside Theatre Company

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Q: Can you share with us your duties as Managing Artistic Director for Northside Theatre?
MK: My responsibilities as Managing Artistic Director for Northside Theatre is to be the vision holder for the company. I make sure we stay true to our mission statement, which is to provide professional-quality theatre at a reasonable price so that everyone in our community, regardless of income level, has access to arts education and entertainment. This also includes picking the season, maintaining artistic quality and the pursuit of funding opportunities. I develop and facilitate the individual artistic process for the company, working as Northside’s voice and representative.

Q: Tell us about your first acting gig … I understand you were all of 11 years old?
MK: I was 11 the first show I did at Northside. I played Martha Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol”. It was a wonderful experience! I learned so much about theatre, made friends I still have to this day, and this play still holds a special place in my heart. This year marks the 36th annual production of “A Christmas Carol”. So many of our patrons come to see “A Christmas Carol” every single year. They take great pleasure in telling me that their family has been coming to see our show for three generations! And we are so proud of providing a holiday experience that means so much to so many. 

Q: You have earned many stage management credits … do you have one that stands out that you can share with us?
MK: I’d have to say that the one that stands out the most is my first one, “The Colored Museum” by George C. Wolfe. One, it’s an excellent script and it was an excellent production. Two, it’s technically difficult, if you’re going to start out with a show, that’s the one you want, because it’s sink or swim! They all feel easier after that. And they were a really fun and talented group of people to work with. 

Q: Can you tell us, what are the steps in creating a stage production?
MK: Once you have picked the show, then you create the schedule: auditions, rehearsals and performances. You hire your team and cast the show. Then there are the pre-production meetings where you decide on lights, sound, costumes and set design. Once rehearsals start your days get very busy. You build the set during the day and hold rehearsals at night. You block the show, pull the props, hang and focus the lights, build the cues, market the play, teach the crew. You basically assemble all of these elements together until you have a cohesive production. It takes a lot of people doing a lot of work, and from first rehearsal to opening night is 38 days. 

Q: As a past sponsor of Northside Theatre, I had the honor to get to know Richard T. Orlando, Northside's Founder and Managing Artistic Director for 37 years. As I got to know him over the years, I can honestly say he possessed one of the most creative minds I’ve ever come across. If you don’t mind, please share with us, what went through your mind as you took on the role as Managing Artistic Director after his passing?
MK: The biggest thing that went through my mind and heart was grief. Richard was my best friend. Not only have I known him since I was 11, but once I started working at Northside full-time in 2001, I saw or spoke to him every day for 15 years. For me the personal loss has had the greatest impact. Professionally, I was intimidated. As you mentioned, Richard was a brilliant, incredibly creative man and they are big shoes to fill. But he taught me well, and I just take it one step at a time and try to do the best I can.

Q: What are some of your goals for the theatre that you hope to see in the future?
MK: I’d love to expand our audience base. The quality of our productions is very high, I’m already quite proud of the work that we do, but I’d love to have more people see them. On more than one occasion I have heard Northside referred to as “The Best Kept Secret in San Jose.” I don’t want us to be a secret. I want us to be the most well-known, highly attended theatre in San Jose! So, I’m working on expanding our outreach and online presence. 

Q: What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment thus far?
MK: Recovering from the Coyote Creek Flood of 2017. Eight months into my tenure as Managing Artistic Director our building was flooded, and we were shut down for 9 months. No productions, no revenue, no nothing. I mean, it’s a flood! Who do you even call when that happens? Everything you own is underwater and the building that has been your home for 37 years is shut down indefinitely. Nothing in my training prepared me for that. So, you work the problem. One phone call at a time, one meeting at a time, you ask for help, you take all the advice you can get, and you just keep going until you are up and running again. Opening night of “A Christmas Carol” 2017, our first show back post flood, that felt like my greatest professional accomplishment. 

Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
MK: There are literally too many to mention, but I will pick two. Gloria Steinem and Dolly Parton. They are both writers. One a journalist and one a song-writer, but they both know what it feels like to stare at a blank page and create something from nothing, and I find that incredibly impressive. They are both brilliant business women who did not come from money. What they built they built from nothing. GS is an activist and DP is a philanthropist, which means they have both dedicated their lives to leaving the world better than they found it. And perhaps most importantly they both overcame being dismissed out of hand for being young and female. They both had doors shut in their faces because “women can’t do that”. And they knocked those doors down and did it anyway. They proved their doubters wrong over and over again. I admire them both greatly. 

Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
MK: As much progress as women have made in the last 50 years, I think we still deal with the same basic challenge: being perceived as “less than” because you are a woman. To this day I encounter situations where my solution to a problem is dismissed, just to have a man say the exact same thing 10 seconds later and his advice is accepted. It’s better than it was, but we are not where we need to be. I think it is our responsibility to teach the next generation that this is unacceptable. I even see it at the theatre. Some of the young women tend to speak up less often, they speak more quietly, and they don’t ask as many questions. Whenever I see that happening, I say the same thing, “You have the right to speak, you have the right to be here, you have the right to exist. Remember that.”

Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
MK: Have faith in yourself. People are going to tell you that you don’t know what you are talking about. There are going to be times you are wrong, of course, that is true of everyone. But if you know you are right, you’re right! Believe in yourself and have faith in that. It will be hard, I can’t pretend it won’t be, but fight for yourself. 

Q: If they made a movie of your life, who’d play you?
MK: Elizabeth Moss. She’s an actress and producer, most well-known for “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Q: What do you like the most about living in the Bay Area?
MK: Our cultural diversity, our technical innovation, and our political climate. The people of the Bay Area come from every country and culture on Earth, and it’s reflected in the life we enjoy here. In the Arts, Music, Dance, Museums, Literature, Education, Fairs, Festivals, Dining, etc. I believe it is the diversity of the people that has contributed to our advanced technical innovation, our rich history, and our inclusive, progressive political climate. And it is part of our Mission to reflect and support this Spirit of San Jose in the work we do at Northside. I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Five Things About Meredith King

1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
Helen Keller. Her’s was the first biography I ever read, I was in the third grade. I learned that she was born in Alabama in the late 1800’s, contracted scarlet fever when she was two and as a result lost both her hearing and her sight. She described it as spending her life in a pitch-black, sound-proof, locked room, where no one could come in and she couldn’t get out. I can’t even imagine what that would have been like. She lived in that form of isolation for 5 years until her teacher and mentor, Anne Sullivan, came into her life. 

Once she learned how to communicate with the world, there was no stopping her. She graduated from Radcliffe College, became a world-renowned lecturer, fought for women’s suffrage and helped form the ACLU. I think it would be an extraordinary opportunity to speak with such an accomplished and courageous person.

2. What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
“Don’t ask the question if you’re not ready for the answer.”

3. How do you release stress?
I really like going for walks through my neighborhood. I don’t bring my phone. The exercise and the fresh air, I always come home feeling better.

4. Who had the most influence on you growing up?
My mother. She raised us as a single parent and we did not have a lot of money. But somehow she managed to buy a home, put both her daughters through college and we never went hungry. She taught us both there is nothing we can’t do. I admire her greatly and still ask her advice on a daily basis. 

5. What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?
That depends on my mood, really. Sometimes I read, watch TV, see a movie, see my friends. It varies. 

Northside Theatre Company
848 E William St, San Jose, CA 95116
Phone: (408) 288-7820
https://www.northsidetheatre.com

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