Morgan M. Manfredi is climbing—9,000 feet above sea level, to be exact. She relocated to the Rocky Mountains in January to serve as the managing director at Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT) in Creede, Colo., the place she got her start as an arts administrator eight years before. Most recently she served as associate general manager at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J. She also worked as production manager of American Family Theatre in Philadelphia; company manager and associate general manager of Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pa.; and production staff for Broadway Sacramento at Music Circus. Now back in Colorado, she’s working with CRT producing artistic director John DiAntonio to lead the financial and daily operations of the company.
ALLISON CONSIDINE: This move is a sort of homecoming. Can you talk about your relationship to Creede Rep?
MORGAN M. MANFREDI: My first administrative job was at CRT back in 2011. CRT was in the middle of building their second stage, the Ruth Humphreys Brown Theatre, and they were looking for someone to come in and assist the then-managing director on the RFP process, keep all the paperwork on the grants, do some general office administration, and possibly stage manage a couple of shows that year. I jumped at it. And I met my husband, who was a company member. It was such a lovely and challenging and interesting experience. My husband and I always said that if there was ever the opportunity to come back to CRT, we wanted to do it. So here we are.
It’s not every day that a managing director gets an artistic director that is really fiscally minded. And John [DiAntonio] is. He’s like, “Hey, let’s do the art, but let’s be financially responsible.” And a lot of the team is new, so everyone’s looking around going, “We’re ready. We’re excited for change. We’re excited to do this better than we had ever done it, while honoring this beautiful 55-year-old legacy.” I just couldn’t be happier.
What about CRT and Creede appeals to you and your husband?
It’s such an unlikely story: a company that was started by college students at 9,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains, and it’s been able to sustain 55 years. It’s just, who would have thunk it? Yet here we are in this beautiful setting where everyone takes the time to climb a mountain and open a door for someone and read a book and go to a play. This is not where you think a theatre would reside for 55 years. This is a sleepy town. It’s 300 people in the winter, and then it can swell to, like, 10,000 in the summer. Fourth of July here feels a little bit like Times Square. In the summer it’s bustling and it’s beautiful. People come here to whitewater raft and ride horses. And then they think, what do we do at night? And the answer is, see a play.
That sounds magical.
It’s really a place that is a home, artistically, and a place to hang your hat. We have a saying here, “Creede always calls you back.” And it’s absolutely true.
How did your experiences between your two times at CRT prepare you for the role of general manager?
Bucks County Playhouse (BCP) was a company that was really just starting when I joined it. Jed Bernstein had taken it over after the theatre had laid dormant for a long time, so it was a group of people he had brought in from New York trying to figure out how to make a theatre in a small town where there hadn’t been a theatre for a while. That was a really great experience, creating processes and procedures and everything basically from scratch. I had a lovely general manager that I was working under who provided a lot of guidance, but also a lot of space for me to do things and grow things on my own.
I went to McCarter because I really wanted to be mentored. I had worked in smaller theatres— CRT, a small touring company in Philadelphia, and at BCP—and I wanted to go somewhere that could really teach me how things happen with the big kids. I had a fantastic mentor in the general manager there, Mindy Richardson. She let me come to LORT negotiating meetings, and I got to participate in so many aspects of the theatre—doing a little bit of finance stuff as well as the contracts, actual things related to programming, and getting things on our stages.
Any other female mentors throughout your career?
I would say Robyn Goodman from Aged In Wood Productions, a New York producer who was also a producer at Bucks County Playhouse. And Emily Mann at McCarter—she’s just a badass woman who can do anything and is just very inspiring in that way. They probably don’t know that they are mentors of mine, but I silently watch them from the sidelines: I am constantly in awe of Susan Medak [at Berkeley Repertory Theatre] and Jennifer Bielstein [at American Conservatory Theater], who are just incredible managing directors. I love watching them at the negotiating tables. I love watching them in EDI sessions with TCG. There’s just no one like the two of them.
What could the field do better to support emerging arts administrators, especially young women?
That’s an excellent question. I think giving as many opportunities to explore different avenues and opportunities within the field is so helpful. I feel concerned, especially in a hiring process, when it’s, “Oh, it looks like someone’s been on this track—a little bit more production-focused, or just in costumes”—sort of pigeonholing people in that way. I did stage management, I did sound, I did carpentry, and somehow someone decided that I should be given an administrative opportunity. Then I figured out: Oh, this is actually where all of these skill sets have been leading. I think it should be about looking at the individual and their gifts, not just at the current trajectory of the jobs that they’ve had.
I also think—and this is going to be terrible to say, possibly, but some of the best staff or company meetings I’ve ever sat in are the ones that have no men in them. That’s not because they don’t belong there. Of course they do, and I love it when they’re there. But especially at McCarter, which is a heavily female staff, the women outnumber the men. Sometimes you’d walk into a room and all the men were gone and it would just be a session of, “Hey, how’d that go? I would really like to give snaps to this person.” It’s a very uplifting and different atmosphere. I think creating spaces with just women in them who are available to support is important. I didn’t find my big voice until I was with other women who were not scared to use theirs.