“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” – Maya Angelou
Arts administrators hold a special place in my heart. As a fellow executive director, I can relate to their daily triumphs and tragedies. Occasionally, I’ll be profiling the unsung heroes who make things happen behind the scenes because they are the glue keeping their nonprofits going. This month, I spoke to Carla Rojo, the Encore Theatre Group Executive Director.
Carla found Encore when she walked into the Warner Grand Theatre with her 10-year-old, who was rehearsing as an orphan in a production of Annie. Newbies to theatre, her daughter had been invited to audition by her Irish dance friends, and Carla was there as a parent volunteer. That was 13 years ago, and now she is the Executive Director of Encore.
The Encore team is comprised of dedicated individuals who work hard to enact their mission of enriching lives through the transformative power of theatre. Carla shares leadership responsibilities with Executive Producer Sharona Krinsky, as well as a production team including Christianna Frederick, Jacob Nye, and Craig Benson, who all closely collaborate to bring the vision of a show to life.
Carla was appointed as the executive director in 2019. Under her guidance, Encore successfully navigated the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the organization’s continuity and the ability to support local artists. Carla has been instrumental in finding funding sources and creating new revenue streams to sustain the organization’s mission. Bringing live theatre experiences to students all over Los Angeles County is her favorite part of the job.
As Carla became more involved in Encore, she began to understand its unique place in the arts world. It is composed of participants and artists from the community who perform for the community. Involvement in theatre productions is much more than putting on a play; the process teaches numerous vital life lessons about leadership, collectively managing a common goal, and effective collaboration.
Encore is a nonprofit company providing theatre experiences for all ages with an introduction to theatre programs, a studio series for teens and adults, and mainstage programs for all ages. Their mission is to build community and transform lives through the performing arts. As part of that mission, the board and staff are committed to creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable community where all participants, employees, and volunteers — whatever their gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, sexual orientation or identity, education, or disability — feel valued and respected as part of this community.
Encore’s participants come from different backgrounds and are the heart of the company. The unwavering commitment exhibited by the families of the troupe continually inspires Carla and the producing team to push forward with their mission. These individuals and families work hard as both cast members and backstage volunteers. Building the shared experience of theatre certainly enriches all of us as a community.
“Over the last 16 years, we have produced many theatrical productions,” says Carla. “The staff and participants have spent many hours in the Warner Grand Theatre, and we think of it as a second home. Working with Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office and the Department of Cultural Affairs, each year we bring in thousands of students to experience live theatre at no cost, many for the first time. It enriches and inspires all of us.”
Encore is immensely grateful for the opportunity to bring live theatre to San Pedro and its surrounding areas. Their dedicated board president, Michelle Rowan, and Vice President John Bagakis are active community members, further cementing strong ties to the area. Encore has a profound sense of ownership and attachment to the Warner Grand and its incredible staff and supporters.
Asked about the impending two-year close of our treasured Warner Grand, Carla notes, “We cherish this historic venue and the supportive staff and patrons who have made our performances there so memorable. While we are excited about the upcoming renovations, we cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness knowing that we will not be able to perform there after the new year. In November, we will have our final show Carrie: The Musical, produced there. We are actively exploring alternative options within San Pedro to ensure that our vibrant performances continue to come to the harbor cities.”
Looking ahead, Encore has ambitious plans to expand its programming and offer new opportunities to the community. They plan to introduce non-musical theatre productions and provide enhanced training options for their talented participants. Encore can enrich the cultural landscape by providing diverse offerings and engaging an even broader audience. spt
For more info on Encore Theatre Group, visit encoresouthbay.org.