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Setting the Stage

By Ruth Keyso, Director of Alumni Relations & Giving

It all came together junior year at Drake.

As part of the curriculum for her performing arts management class, Marissa Ford ’07 was responsible for developing a business plan for a theater production company. She crafted a mission statement, plotted a season of performances, drafted a business proposal, and presented before a panel of professors, acting as potential investors.

The exercise illuminated the business side of the theater and sparked her interest in pursuing a career in the field.

“This opened my eyes to what I wanted to do: to develop my own theater company,” Marissa says.

Currently she’s learning the ropes from the masters. At the storied Goodman Theatre in Chicago, the city’s oldest and largest non-profit theater, Marissa works as a special projects associate, juggling a series of responsibilities, from coordinating meetings between departments, hiring actors and directors, and brainstorming on the many details that go into making a successful stage production. In 2015 she managed all events surrounding the Goodman’s August Wilson Festival. She is currently working with colleagues on the first sensory-friendly performance of A Christmas Carol, celebrating its 40th anniversary year at the Goodman in 2017.

Marissa says she is thrilled to “have a seat at the table” at the Goodman and access to both the actors and the executives. A former apprentice to Goodman’s longtime executive director Roche Schulfer, Marissa says the on-the-job experience she received shadowing Roche, sitting in on financial meetings, and attending board events has been an education in and of itself.

“It’s like getting an MFA for free,” she says, adding that she never dreamed she’d find a workplace she loved so much this early in her career.

Like many in the theater industry, Marissa is an actor at heart. As a child she appeared in church productions with her family. At LFA, she starred in multiple stage performances, including The Diary of Anne Frank and Once Upon This Island, and even directed a full production of Women and Wallace for her independent study in theater with Mark Dryfoos. And as a theater major at Drake, she gained experience both on the stage and behind the curtain. Marissa says the urge to act never goes away. But for now, she’s just happy to be making art.

And theater is an art she encourages more people to enjoy. While TV and Netflix are fast and easy ways to get a media fix, Marissa challenges entertainment-seekers to give the theater a shot.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she explains. “Each night the show is different; something can happen on stage that only you and the people in that room [experience together]. You can’t hit replay or stream that.”

One day Marissa hopes to open her own theater company on the city’s South or West Side. She’ll focus on African-American stories, cultural narratives that might not be represented in the media today. Until then, she continues to immerse herself in the Chicago theater scene and to soak in as much knowledge as possible from the people and performances around her. And, most important, she spreads the gospel of theater every chance she gets.

“There’s always a place for art.”

Marissa Ford is a 2007 graduate of Lake Forest Academy and a 2012 graduate of Drake University, where she earned her BFA in Theatre and a BSBA in International Business. She is a special projects associate at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. She lives in Hyde Park.

Posted by Ms. Grace Kim in Summer 2017 on Thursday July, 13, 2017
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