The End of An Era:
As Moonlight wraps up its 32nd Season, its founder and ultimate “leading lady,” Artistic Director Kathy Brombacher, prepares to step down
By Donnie Matsuda
For the past thirty two years, the names “Moonlight” and “Kathy Brombacher” have been virtually synonymous. The famed and fortunate leader of the Vista-based theatre company has had an incredible tenure as Artistic Director, taking the company from a small hilltop at Brengle Terrace Park – with no lights, no electricity, and no running water – and transforming it into the well-known and well-respected musical theatre institution that it is today, producing the highest caliber of theatre at two state-of-the-art locations. Now that the long-time artistic chief is ready to hand over her reigns and officially retire, Brombacher sat down with me to reminisce about how it all began – her childhood growing up in Southern California, her early career as an actress and budding director, her move to the hills of Vista, and how the organization now know as Moonlight Stage Productions came to be.
|Kathy Brombacher, Founder and long-time Artistic Director of Moonlight Stage Productions. Photo by John Koster.|
PART 1: EARLY CHILDHOOD
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in the San Bernadino area of Southern California. I was raised in Colton and went to Colton High School. They call it the lovely Inland Empire. [laughs]
Were your parents involved in showbiz?
Not at all….well, my father was a musician and always played, up until 6 months before he passed away, in a band. A small combo. He came from the era of big bands and he played piano and was part of many music groups. He was in the Air Force in World War II. My mother played from music and my father played from cording and improvising. So we had two pianists in the family growing up. And I think all of us played piano, my brother took up the trombone, and we were the musical family singing in church. We all sang harmonies and we read music and that sort of thing. So, it was great at Christmas. [laughs] Essentially, that’s my background with a lot of music in it but no theatre growing up, until I went to college.
You mentioned one brother. Older or younger?
Younger. Everyone in the family is younger than I am.
And how many in the family?
I have three siblings. A brother and two sisters. My sister closest to me has passed away now.
And are any of them involved in showbiz?
My younger sister sang with a dance band. She sang in choirs in college and that sort of thing. And up until recently she played the piano for church.
I understand you got involved in dance at a very, very early age…tell me about your first time dancing onstage.
Well, it was sort of a disaster. [laughs] I thought it would be nice to take dance class and that was fine. But when it came time to stand backstage and get ready to go on for my first recital … I just bolted. I cried and I said “Get me out of here!” (or whatever I was saying as a child) and I think I was finally convinced to go onstage, but I was very, very unhappy! [laughs] So I just said “I quit!” And I didn’t take dance classes again until college.
How old were you at the time?
I think I was five years old. And the idea of being dressed up in a tutu … ah… it just really frightened me. I was very frightened.
Not your thing, huh?
NOT my thing!
How would you describe your childhood?
I was very engaged in academics. I always wanted to be a good student. My background was mostly spent in music programs. I played clarinet growing up from junior high band through high school band, I also did choir during those times, and what was called “madrigals” (that’s a capella singing). I was also in concert band, and marching band in high school, and I was in student government in high school. The most important part of my time in high school was spent in journalism and writing. I had a fabulous teacher who had almost gone to the Pasadena Playhouse. She’s the woman, Christina DeBeeson is her name, who took me to my first professional play: she took a small group of students to the Pasadena Playhouse and she took me to the University of Redlands where the first play that I saw was “Death of a Salesman.” And then we saw Shakespeare there. So that exposure in high school, even though I didn’t really aspire at that time, really entrenched me and carried me away. The power of Arthur Miller’s play was especially … I remember that had a huge impact.
And then, our summers in that area, we had the open air Redlands Bowl concert. And they usually did one musical a year. This was in the town of Redlands which was close to me and is still a very vibrant cultural town. They had the university, they had the symphony there, and the Redlands Bowl was an outdoor bowl where the association that put together the concert series believed that it should be free to the public. So everything they did was free. You could sit under the stars on the grass and hear great music, see a great musical, etc.
And I have to say I was very much involved in church. Being a camp counselor, I went on a missions tour, which took us up to the great fields of Delano and San Francisco learning about needs in the community. As well as the inner city of Los Angeles. This was in the 60’s when I was in high school and there was a lot going on … so my eyes were opened to a lot of things that the church was engaged in and needed to be involved in. So I was grateful to a church that had its eyes open on the world and on society. And I think that framed some parts of me.
And can I ask what church you belonged to?
Yes, it was a United Methodist church.
Ah, I grew up as a United Methodist myself.
Did you? For Pete sakes! I owe a great deal to those people who volunteered to be camp counselors. I first was a camper and then a camp counselor and then was on staff teaching music. So that was probably some of my first theatrical stuff. In college, I got engaged right away in the theatre. It was a small college at the University of Redlands, a great group of people. I started as a music major and then moved to a theatre major right away at the end of my freshman year because of the people. How exciting the atmosphere was! And in a small college, you get to do everything. You run the light board, you build the scenery, you do everything. And I think that was a great way for me to embrace all the arts of theatre.
Stay tuned for the remaining three parts of my interview with Kathy, posted over the next three days....