Muny Veteran Kwofe Coleman To Become Theater's New CEO
In 1998, Kwofe Coleman was a 16-year-old growing up in Bellefontaine Neighbors and looking for a summer job.
His older sister worked at the Muny. She got the job because of a tip from her mother’s best friend’s husband, who delivered mail to the Muny and had sent his own daughter to work there.
So Coleman followed suit. He started out as an usher, pushing patrons’ wheelchairs up and down the outdoor theater’s steep aisles. He’s worked at the theater ever since, moving up the ranks to become managing director in 2018.
On Jan. 1, he’ll become the Muny’s new president and CEO.
“I’m honored. I’m excited. I’m humbled. I’m eager,” Coleman, 38, said. “I’ve got a little bit of butterflies but I think that’s the right way to feel in a moment like this, because of the magnitude of what the Muny means in this community.”
Coleman said he’d like to expand the Muny’s educational programming, maintain its high production standards and appeal to all potential theatergoers, including younger audience members. The amount of diversity in Muny audiences currently fluctuates on a “show by show” basis, he said.
“I think what you want to work toward is that there’s an audience that appreciates the work that you do, regardless of if the story feels slanted to one demographic or not," he said. "That’s something we continue to work toward.”
A high-profile stage
Coleman will succeed Dennis Reagan, who has a similar history with the Muny. Reagan started out as a teenager on the post-show cleanup crew before eventually becoming president and CEO in 1991. Mike Isaacson will continue serving as artistic director and executive producer.
After producing an online-only season last year, the Muny has announced plans to return to in-person, live performance for its 103rd season in July, if pandemic conditions allow.
With its prominent location on city property in Forest Park and a pre-pandemic annual budget of $20 million, the Muny is one of the region’s highest-profile cultural organizations. In recent years the organization has renovated its grounds and built a new stage. It has raised more than $87 million as part of a planned $100 million capital campaign launched before the 2018 season.
As its leader, Coleman will join the short list of Black professionals at the head of performing arts organizations in St. Louis.
“Anything that I do, I carry with me the realization that someone that looks like me has to see that they can do the same thing,” Coleman said. “So if there’s another young person of color who one day wants to lead an organization — or doesn’t even realize yet that they do — but if they see me doing it, and I do a good job for this place and for this community, it becomes something on their radar that is achievable to them. And I think that’s really important.”
Rising star with St. Louis roots
Coleman’s profile is rising in the national theater industry and the local cultural community. He is past vice president and current president-elect of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and serves on several boards of directors in the St. Louis region. He received the St. Louis American’s Salute To Young Leaders Award in 2015 and last year was listed among St. Louis Business Journal’s “40 Under 40.”
Before becoming the Muny’s managing director, he served as director of communications and marketing. He has also been the theater’s staff accountant and house manager.
Coleman said the Muny’s leading place among St. Louis arts organizations carries special responsibility to ensure that everyone in the community is welcome, regardless of age, economic status, ethnicity or gender.
“With theater like ours, our job is to make sure, to the absolute extent that we can, that our audience looks like our community,” he said. “If we are a theater for this city, for this county, for this region, we have to make sure our audience appears that way. And if it doesn’t, we have to ask ourselves why not.”
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