Getting to Know Her. Getting to Know All About Her…
The Muni’s New President, Diane Hoots
AG: Tell us about how you got started with The Muni…
DH: The first Muni show I saw was Evita (1985) with Nancy Diefenback. I was mesmerized. It was a beautiful show, visually and musically. I remember thinking, “I’d love to be part of that!” A few years later, Laurie and Dennis O’Brien gave me the opportunity to help backstage with The Wizard of Oz (1996). I’ve been backstage ever since.
AG: People often talk about The Muni Magic. What does that mean to you? Do you have a favorite Muni story that reflects that ideal?
DH: I think The Muni Magic comes from the people at The Muni. It is the collective talent, passion, and creativity harnessed to make imagination come alive on stage. Most of all, it is caring. The Muni people care about musical theatre and about those with whom they collaborate.
I have several favorite Muni stories, but the first one that always comes to mind is about a young woman who auditioned for the first time. She was so nervous that she froze and forgot the words to her song. One of the vocal directors smiled and started singing the song along with her to give her confidence. Before I knew it, the entire audience (this was back in the days of open auditions) was singing with the woman. When she finished, she got a standing ovation. Everyone in the room appreciated her courage.
AG: Speaking of auditions, as a former chair of the auditions committee, do you have any wisdom you’d like to impart for those gearing up to audition for The Muni’s 2015 Season?
DH: Just do it! The Muni is the most fun you will ever have… if you put your heart into it. I save vacation time every year just to be at The Muni. It’s a blast, and the 2015 Season promises to be one of our best!
AG: Describe your path to becoming President of The Muni.
DH: The Muni environment is all about mentoring and supporting each other and my list of mentors is extensive (too many to list them all.) Key to my involvement in the organization are (current and former Board members) Steve Kaplan, Laurie O’Brien, Marj Berchtold, Scott Viniard, Mike Rogers and Dennis O’Brien. I also owe a lot to Nancy Whalen, Marge Roth, and Tom Shrewsbury (all now deceased) for their encouragement and support. I miss them.
I don’t think anyone can be thoroughly versed in all aspects of a diverse organization like The Muni. We are constantly growing, changing, and improving. These are a few of our strengths and also our challenges. Fortunately, no one person has to know it all. We are a team effort, like a cast on the stage, with everyone playing his or her part and making a contribution. I will never know all there is to know about The Muni, but it’s a fascinating topic so I will keep trying! The biggest obstacle I had to overcome in becoming President was myself, being nervous that I wouldn’t do a good job. I’m not so sure I’m over that one yet. Maybe in a year . . .
AG: What plans do you have for your year as President? Any exciting new developments you can share?
DH: Some presidents come in with specific goals in mind, but I don’t think I have any particular ones that are revolutionary. I’d like to continue to grow the The Muni experience for our audience members, like reinstituting the opening night reception. I saw how much fun guests had during the picture-taking sessions after the show for Shrek The Musical (2014). The opening night reception at the top of the hill will allow us to capture some of that fun for every show.
I would also like to continue with our plans to improve the backstage area for cast. For the past couple years, The Muni’s Board of Managers and Trustees have been discussing possible ways to improve the site. Hopefully, I can help move those talks along to begin making them a reality. Our cast members generously give us so much of their time and talent; I’d like to make the backstage area as nice as we can to show our appreciation to them.
AG: As a volunteer organization, The Muni is always looking for new people to get involved in all aspects of the organization. What advice do you have to newcomers on how to get involved?
DH: There are so many ways to get involved with The Muni. You can find out about volunteer opportunities on our "Volunteer at The Muni" page and, if you find something that you’d like to do, complete our Volunteer Form to let us know of your interest. Also, during show season, don’t hesitate to walk up to the House Manager, Head Cashier or other Muni Board Member (identifiable by our purple Muni nametags) and tell us you want to get involved.
I have to tell you, volunteering to help out onsite during a show is fun! Come out to the site prepared to meet new people of all ages, and allow yourself to get caught up in the excitement and anticipation before the show begins.
AG: The 2015 Season marks The Muni’s 50th Anniversary of its lakeside amphitheatre. Any stories you’d like to share about the theatre itself and what it has meant to you?
DH: We are still talking about what we can do to mark the 50th anniversary of uninterrupted seasons at our site, which is really a beautiful place, by the way. I recently talked to some Springfieldians who were seeing our site for the first time, and they were amazed at the lush, park-like setting.
We talk about Muni being a family, which harkens back to what I said earlier about The Muni being about the people who care about each other and the art they create at our site. We ARE a family, and that is what has meant the most to me. I don’t have a large family anymore but I do because I have my Muni family, and the site is our home-away-from-home. We play like family, work like family, care about each other like family, and, yes, we can even bicker and make up like family!
AG: As one of The Muni’s resident “Make-up Experts”, what goes in to planning the makeup design and execution for a show?
DH: The process for designing and doing makeup and hair depends on the show. Shows like The Wizard of Oz and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast involve more time and challenge that something more straightforward like State Fair. Most of the challenges I face are common to any outdoor summer theatre venue, like getting makeup to stay on when performers are perspiring profusely!
One of my favorite memories involves Steve Williams who played the Beast (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast 2005). We met every evening at the director’s air-conditioned house to apply Steve’s prosthetics and makeup. Then each of us drove our cars to The Muni to get him into costume for the show. One evening, I followed Steve and watched as a police car drew up in the lane beside his car. I was close enough at the stoplight to see the face of the officer as he casually glanced at the driver of the car next to him – and his eyes widen when he saw the face of that driver. I was still laughing when we finally arrived at The Muni!
AG: What is the one thing that most people don’t know about The Muni that you want them to know?
DH: Well, I hope most people know this already, but if they don’t… The Muni is important! The fine arts are important! I’ve seen so many young people grow up at The Muni. They start as young kids in a chorus and become accomplished, talented, confident, responsible adults before our eyes.
The “Muni kids” are special; they learn quickly about teamwork, dedication, hard work, persistence and goal-setting. They show courage when they come to auditions and they show commitment when they come to rehearsals every night when it sometimes might be more fun (but less productive) to hang out with their friends every night. They become part of something exciting and work as a team with the rest of the cast to share that excitement with strangers sitting in the audience. They work hard building sets and cleaning up the site; and they walk away at the end of the season with a new sense of accomplishment, new friends from all age groups and professions, and, hopefully, an awakened passion for the arts.
AG: Tell us a little about your life outside of The Muni.
DH: I keep pretty busy, but I have several passions that are my focus. One is, of course, The Muni. Another is my “job”. I use quotes because I really don’t think of it as work most of the time. I have a wonderful, rewarding job working for the State doing emergency management – planning for, preparing for, and responding to emergencies, such as tornadoes, floods, and winter storms. I’m not one of the heroes who go into the collapsed house or out into a blizzard (and those folks are true heroes, believe me). But I’m one of the people who stay in the background and make sure those heroes have the equipment they need. The job is so great because, when someone is having one of the worst days of their life, I can make a difference. In my spare time (what little of it there is), I also love to cook, do needlework, and design and make my own jewelry.
The most important person in my life is my daughter. She makes it possible for me to stay as busy as I am because she holds down the fort at home – taking care of pets, doing laundry, dishes, etc. She is my cheerleader and confidence-builder. We are a team!