Thursday, October 4, 2012


Kathy's directorial finale, staging "Fiddler on the Roof" for Moonlight in 2012.  Photo courtesy of Ken Jacques.
What was the first musical you ever directed?  

“Fiddler on the Roof” was my first big, full scale production in college for my senior thesis.  It was given to me as a student and it was part of the college’s regular season of plays.  But it wasn’t a student production.  It was a fully fleshed out, professional production. 

What was the first play you ever directed?  

Then I came into teaching high school, so it would be there.  It was “The Miracle Worker.”  

Do you have a preference for working on musicals vs. “straight plays”?

I enjoy doing the right kind of musical.  You know, every director has their style.  I’m not right for “Anything Goes” I think.  I’ve never directed “Anything Goes.”  I have directed “Ragtime,” which I’m proud of.  I have directed “The Spitfire Grill.”  I think my taste ranges through the acting with musicals that have a good, solid acting script.  I’m not a choreographer.  I’m not a dancer.  I tend toward musicals that have a script and acting, as opposed to musicals that should be given to director/choreographers.  

And the question was “which do I prefer.”  I do prefer non-musical plays.  All kinds of non-musical plays.  And one of the things I felt so strongly about when we had the Moonlight going is that we should have a place in which we could do non-musical plays.  Hence, came the AVO Playhouse.   

When I started working full time with the City of Vista running the cultural arts program - coming out of teaching - I said we need a place where we can do a couple of non-musicals.  I really believe in that literature and I’m really proud that an organization that makes its name in musical theatre is also producing these non-musicals.  

The AVO Playhouse at 303 Main Street in Downtown Vista.
You mentioned that you came here as a high school teacher.  I’m curious, is there a story there of how you ended up in Vista…of all places?

Right, right!  Well I had been in Denver and came home to kind of recover.  Out of graduate school, I had done dinner theatre and had wanted to get my Equity card and go to New York, but things just kept not lining up for that.  So I came home for awhile, worked a variety of jobs, and then this teaching job came up.  Harold Warman who was band director and his wife who was teaching English at Fallbrook High School, as well as Pete McKew who was an activities director and a teacher of US History: they were friends of mine up in the Colton area and when an opening happened they said come down here to Vista High School.  They had a very short window of time - it was like a week before school started - and someone had left because they got another job.  So I auditioned for the role … I interviewed with the principal.  I had with me some letters of recommendation that were fine, but even though I had no teaching experience, they took a chance on me.  So I went up to UC Irvine at nights and got my teaching credential.  But, yeah, it was out of the blue.  It was like, “Are you ready for this?  Grab the ring and start teaching!”  And I had a great aunt living in San Marcos, so immediately I had a place to stay.  But it came very fast and furious.  And by Thanksgiving … I was ready to quit.  [laughs]  No, I continued on for 12 years.  

And the Superintendent of schools, Jack Price, who was a man who was very arts minded, came to me one day and said “What do you dream about?”  Because the high school theatre I was teaching at had 147 seats. So, it was a tiny place to be producing what I wanted to do – a combination of musicals and straight plays.  And I said, “I dream about having a place where musicals can be produced and there’s room for an orchestra, you could have production values, you could have scenery, etc.”  And he brought me out to this hilltop at Brengle Terrace Park, which was a flag pavilion for the 1976 bicentennial.  And he said, “Well, here’s a place.”  [laughs]  No running water, no lights, no electricity.  “What do you think?”  And I said, “Well … I’ll get my friends together and we’ll tackle this.”  And the city had to give their approval because it was a city park and little did they know what was about to happen to them!  

With my high school students, we built and painted scenery.  Ken Gammie - who is still conducting with us today - put together the orchestra.  And, to get this started, people volunteered for nothing, I mean just for the love of the arts. And then the Recreation Department had to help us with some infrastructure.  To get volunteers and help supplement everything.  And then, as they saw the theatre grow, they adopted us as a program of the city, which was pretty major for a city to say they’ll adopt this theatre program and help pay the expenses and help develop the land.    That’s the way it’s been all these years.  

And what were you doing at that time…were you producing musicals year round?

In the beginning, we were just doing the summer musicals and I was teaching full time.  

Kathy Brombacher and Ed Perez at Moonlight in 1982.  Photo courtesy of Moonlight Stage Productions.
How many years from when you started did the City of Vista step in and start investing in your company?

It was 1984 I believe.  And we started in 1981, so it was three years after.  

And the way we had funds to even start was back to that Superintendent of schools.  He said I have a way to get you some upfront money … I mean you need money for royalties, money to build scenery, money to get costumes … so, for the first couple of years we were an adult education program.  He said let’s offer this as an adult education program to the community and the actors will sign up for class, you will be the teacher, and we’ll have a few people who are independent contractors come in and provide support services.   

So, a $10,000 budget was allotted for the set of summer classes through adult education.  And it has always been a combination of the school district supporting us and then the city supporting us.  And it certainly helped that I had friends who were also teachers that were contributing to this who were certified to work with students.  They all had faith in us.      

Were you called Moonlight Stage Productions at this time?

No, we were called the Vista Summer Theatre Festival.  We started with two musicals and we didn’t know if we’d want to do straight plays, or some festival, you know, we were just being open to it all.  

Moonlight in 1983.  Photo courtesy of Moonlight Stage Productions.
And when did you change the name and how did you choose Moonlight?

We got together an Executive Committee composed of people who were volunteers - like a Board except they were more like an Advisory Committee.  And we sat around and came up with names and we eventually came up with Moonlight.  At the time, there was the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park that was very familiar to everyone.  And we thought that keeping “Vista” in the name might keep away some of the neighboring communities who wanted to be involved, so we wanted something that was more umbrella-ed.  And we have gorgeous moons that appear in the sky over the amphitheatre and behind the trees!  So it just seemed a really graceful kind of name.  

And do you remember when-abouts you officially changed your name to Moonlight?

It was a couple years in because they didn’t have a name for the amphitheatre, really.  Even though it had existed since 1976, it was simply known as “the Amphitheatre at Brengle Terrace Park.”  I’m thinking it was the mid-80’s … 1984, 1985 … something like that.      

How would you characterize your working relationship with the City of Vista since then?

Well, I became a City of Vista employee and left teaching in 1989.  So the city was absolutely supportive from the beginning. 

At that time, there was a Vista press that existed.  And articles were written about us getting started, photographs taken, and we were really supported by the press in a big way.  Jim Porter, the Director of Parks, and Kathy Brendell both collaborated to write grants to improve the facility to bring running water and electricity.  They wrote a grant to build our patio area and restrooms…that was 1987 or 1988.  Jim also made sure we had a proper sound and lighting booth.  We’ve also had community projects to lay cement slabs and another project to build a side stage for us so that we could store scenery to give us more space onstage.  But the City of Vista has been very, very supportive of improvements, including putting roads in, parking lots in, and fences in … all kinds of infrastructure.  

Then in 1990-1991, we started discussing building a permanent stage house.  We had pretty much built everything ourselves until we had the new stage house built and so there was a long set of campaigns and fundraising efforts for that.  We also went out and did a feasibility study, we raised money for the architectural plans (there have been several renditions that happened during the 1990’s into the 2000’s)  and then in 2006 the voters of Vista voted on Proposition L, which included the upgrade of the fire stations, the city hall, the sports park and, of course, Moonlight’s new stage house.  So that support is indicative of the fact that our City Council and these wonderful people who ran Recreation always had us in mind as they were improving this park.  Jim Porter passed away last year and I will tell you I really miss the man.  He invested so much in this.  He believed in it completely as did many, many citizens.    

The Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista.  Photo courtesy of Ken Jacques.

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