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Marnie Mitze: A Heart for the Arts
She loves “magical moments that only happen when unspoken energy, beauty, and communication are created,” and when “there may be 500 people in the room and you can hear a pin drop.”
“She” is Marnie Duke Mitze, and her appreciation and love of performing arts goes back to her days as a concert pianist and skilled project manager—experiences that serve her well today as managing director of Pepperdine’s Center for the Arts.
In this position, Mitze recently oversaw one of the most magical moments to grace Smothers Theatre. The Parkening International Guitar Competition, held from May 30 to June 2, 2006, took more than a year to plan under Mitze’s watchful eye. She and her capable team at the Center for the Arts handled myriad details ranging from recruiting applicants, lining up sponsors, and coordinating travel plans to working with the renowned judges, ensuring the competitors had accommodations and meal cards, and ordering the food for the opening and closing receptions.
At its conclusion, the Parkening was a resounding success. The event brought Pepperdine national and international news coverage, and secured the competition’s place as the standard to which all the world’s classical guitar competitions would be compared. It also gave Mitze an opportunity to enjoy some excellent live classical guitar music and, as music is her passion, the competition was well worth the time and effort required.
Mitze’s love of music, and music performance is a constant theme in her life. She received her bachelor’s degree in music in 1976 from the University of North Texas in Denton, a top school for musicians. From there, she went on to earn her master’s in piano performance from Boston University in 1978. When she wasn’t perfecting her technique in the practice room, she focused her talents on creating a unique curriculum combining performing arts, management, and accounting. Today, many schools offer such programs, but in the 1970s, they were nonexistent. “Knowing the challenges and issues firsthand, makes you a better manager,” Mitze states. “As a performer myself, I have tremendous respect for the performer and the artist.”
Mitze and her husband Tom, the executive director of the City of Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, live on the Malibu campus with their 11-year-old son, Michael. Her days and nights are spent producing some 300 annual public events and live performances at Pepperdine. From An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin to SHeDAISY and Comedy Pet Theatre, there is something to appeal to all tastes. Mitze points out that the primary skill of a manager is to respect and understand the art and artist. “It’s about balancing the business side with the artistic side—they have to coexist,” she says.
One of her passions in life is bringing live art performances to thousands of Los Angeles schoolchildren through the ArtsReach Program, which started during the 1993-1994 season. Many of the children, who are bussed in from city schools, have never experienced a live performance, and they in turn write hundreds of letters that reflect their excitement and pleasure from viewing The Berenstein Bears on Stage, Charlotte’s Web, or BREAK! The Urban Funk Spectacular.
It is also a challenge to present a season, keep ideas fresh, and find out what’s new in the industry. “We are fortunate, by national acclaim, to have the most beautiful university campus in the country,” Mitze says. “We must equally dedicate ourselves to having a campus of the highest intellectual, spiritual, and cultural environment. The arts are intrinsic to that quest.”
Whether it’s the surreal communion that happens when Jason Petty reincarnates himself as Hank Williams, or when Smothers Theatre is resonating with the praising voices of the Blind Boys of Alabama or the winner of the Parkening International Guitar Competition, members of the audience have no idea how much time and effort have been expended on stage and behind the scenes—booking artists, dealing with agents, and transporting performers and equipment to Malibu. That, Mitze says, is precisely the way she wants it to be.
By Larenda Roberts, with additional reporting by Jerry Derloshon