If you've been to Stages Theatre in the past decade, you've met "Ma." She hands you your seat assignments, reminds you of the concessions, asks you to remember to turn off your cell phone, and hey, did you know there's a fund-raiser going on right now for new lights? She gently chides you for being late, then shows you where your seat is.
If you've been to the storefront theater in Fullerton more than once, she already knows your name.
As the house manager, April Skinner is a passionate whirlwind. And she couldn't imagine life any other way. Without her, "[Stages] wouldn't have the same feel, the same atmosphere," she says. "I bring my own uniqueness to it."
Skinner, 58, has lived in Southern California her whole life. And she's done many jobs in that lifetime, including serving as a rape-crisis counselor and running the computer library at a Fullerton elementary school. Her most important jobs, she'll tell you, though, are these: wife, mother, grandmother. Oh, and house manager.
But it's being a mother that got her that last job. Her son Michael, then still in high school, was running tech for a play at the theater, and Skinner would attend performances on nights he was working. "I was the obsessive mom who has to be a part of everything," Skinner says with her signature laugh. "I became a person who was seen: 'Hey, here's this lady who has been to every performance. How about we train you to be house manager?'"
Amanda DeMaio, the theater's executive director, recalls, "One day, she looked at us and said she wanted to house manage even more. I believe her words were 'Forever. I'll just do it.'"
Skinner treats the house as her house, ensuring everything is in place for not only visitors, but also the Stages family. She handles the ticketing and the day-to-day operations. Supplies are stocked, rooms cleaned, bills paid. "She's been instrumental in getting the theater organized as a business," DeMaio says, "and runs, as they say, a pretty tight ship in the office."
And theater-goers are honored guests to Skinner's home. "She really approaches the theater as an extension of her living room," DeMaio says. "She invites you in for a few hours and hopes you had a good time."
"I'm always there," Skinner says, laughing. "I build a relationship with our patrons. . . . I want everyone to feel good and feel warm. I treat all the people like my children."
"She loves talking to patrons and getting to know them," DeMaio adds. "She's excited when she makes that connection."
The connection is so strong that Stages is the one thing safe from Skinner's self-imposed layoffs. She's stepping back from a 12-year run at the elementary school and has already left the 15-year counseling gig. "I don't do anything for short periods of time," she says. "I'm a long-timer." Her younger son, Martin, is moving back to OC in September, after being gone with the Navy. With him will be his wife and two children, and Skinner is looking forward to being a "full-time grandma."
But she isn't considering leaving the theater: "[The theater] is my passion," she says. "It feeds my soul. . . . I can't think of not being there."
Neither can DeMaio. "On any given night, there's a one-woman show going on in that lobby," she says, "and there's nothing that gets in her way!"
Patrice Marsters started at OC Weekly as an intern, just before the first issue was published. She is now the associate editor of the paper, serves on the board of the Orange County Press Club, and mentors aspiring writers and editors at Newport Harbor High School. In her spare time, Ms. Marsters co-leads a multi-level Girl Scout troop, creates baked goods, and rants at inanimate objects (including her computer) about her grammatical and writing pet peeves.