Unveiling a New Era: Magik Theatre Welcomes Managing Director, Melissa Zarb-Cousin
The Best of Both Worlds
MAGIK THEATRE NAMES MELISSA ZARB-COUSIN AS MANAGING DIRECTOR
IN FIRST DUAL LEADERSHIP MODEL
“This is a unique opportunity for Artistic Director Anthony Runfola and I to live in our strengths and take Magik Theatre to the next chapter.” – Melissa Zarb-Cousin, Managing Director, Magik Theatre
San Antonio, TX – (June 9, 2023) At the age of 14, Melissa Zarb-Cousin walked through the doors of the Magik Theatre for the first time to participate in the North East School of Arts production of the all-girl musical, “Miraculous St. Joan.” Theatre made a lasting impression on the first-generation American as early as fourth grade, shaping the trajectory of her life by inspiring her to “dream big.” Now, nearly two decades later, Zarb-Cousin is walking back through the doors where it all began as the theatre’s first Managing Director. She joins Artistic Director Anthony Runfola as part of the nonprofit’s first dual leadership model, combining her extensive business and fundraising skills with his unparalleled creativity and vision to catapult Magik to the next level.
“We were seeking a dynamic and inspirational addition to our team, who embodies our commitment to the principles of arts education, promoting literacy, and providing quality arts programming for families. I believe that we have found that and more in Melissa and we are incredibly delighted to welcome her back to our Magik Theatre family,” says Magik Theatre CEO, Frank Villani.
Villani will continue to serve as CEO, mentoring Zarb-Cousin through the onboarding process before transitioning to an independent consultant role for the theatre this fall. Villani joined Magik Theatre as CEO in 2014. During his tenure, he successfully eliminated the organization’s deficit, raising over $750,000 from private contributions. More recently, he directed Magik’s proposal to secure $2.75 million in city bond funds, prosperously paving the way for extensive building upgrades. Additionally, Villani introduced Magik’s unique partnership with Bexar County and the Cyndi Taylor Krier Juvenile Correctional Treatment Center to the Justice Arts Coalition in 2019. This program gives incarcerated youth the chance to perform on stage in front of their families, allowing them to explore their untapped talents and experience the transformative power of the arts firsthand. Since then, the program has become a model for similar initiatives around the country.
A DUAL DIRECTION
“I could not be more excited to work with Magik Theatre and continue the legacy of my predecessors in addressing the needs of the San Antonio community and the creative education of the children here,” says Zarb-Cousin, who holds a Master’s in Nonprofit Management from Our Lady of the Lake University. “It has long been my goal to continue to broaden the scope of my impact through my nonprofit work, and I look forward to serving this community through the power of art.”
While the concept of dual leadership might be new to Magik Theatre, it is relatively common in the theatre world and the nonprofit world in general. It allows for what Magik CEO Frank Villani calls a “right brain, left brain” approach, with one side focusing on the creative, one on the management and finance, and both sides being driven and informed by the overall mission. Runfola has the creative side covered since taking over the role of Artistic Director, and, after an extensive international search, Zarb-Cousin emerged as the obvious choice for the newly created position of managing director, having cut her teeth on nonprofit work at Magik while still in her teens. After that first fateful show, Zarb-Cousin interned at the theatre while still in high school and returned after college to perform and work in an administrative role before finally landing the position of executive assistant to Magik Theatre Founder Richard Rosen. That was the start of a career path that led her to The Children’s Shelter and SA Youth, where she served as chief of staff and project leader for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant, which served more than 1,200 children daily across two school districts. Additionally, Zarb-Cousin founded and developed The Alliance, a community advisory board of young professionals that focuses on program support, advocacy, networking, and board training. She has successfully raised more than $1 million in grants, annual events and giving campaigns throughout her career, and has established herself as a dedicated public servant, serving on numerous boards and nonprofit committees. Zarb-Cousin was an active member of the Advisory Committee for the Emerging Leaders Program of the United Way of San Antonio, the Artistic Advisory Committee of The Public Theater, and a recent graduate of Leadership San Antonio, class 46. She currently serves on the arts committee and the U40 committee at the Rotary Club of San Antonio. This wealth of experience gives Zarb-Cousin a unique understanding of her current task at hand, namely, she says, “helping Magik become the premier theatre for young audiences in South Texas and beyond while honoring its founding principles.”
“Two things will stay true,” she assures. “First, Magik will continue to give artists a chance to grow, earn a living, and explore their art while providing our community with first-class production value second to none. Next, we will continue to ensure that no child is ever turned away based on their circumstances. That will never change.”
KEEPING THE MAGIK ALIVE…
…is a full-time job that Zarb-Cousin says she looks forward to sharing with Runfola, who came to Magik as artistic director in October 2019 after 20 years with Childsplay Theater in Arizona. The co-directors share the same vision for moving the theatre forward. And according to Zarb-Cousin, they also share a love of rock music and anchovies on their pizza.
“We are very compatible,” she laughs.
After attending a theatre for young audience conference together, Zarb-Cousin says they became even more convinced that Magik is on the right track.
“Time and time again, we saw the value and uniqueness in what we have at Magik, especially with our venue, which is located so close to the heart of the city,” she explains. “Our next step is to capitalize on our place in time and our place in the city as it continues to grow and flourish all around us.”
Runfola agrees, adding that colleagues are always amazed when they see Magik’s premier location in such a family centered civic space. The theatre entertains, on average, 45 thousand patrons annually which includes thousands of field trip students coming to Hemisfair to enjoy a day of Magik, picnics and playground time at Yanaguana Garden.
“We have not yet leveraged this asset to the next level,” he says. “Now that we are working with Mel, it is time to do so.”
MAKING THE MAGIK HAPPEN
Putting Magik Theatre at the forefront of the art community’s consciousness is a two-fold process. First, from a business angle, it means trying to continue the legacy set forth by Rosen to bring back, or retain, teaching artists.
“In the past, theater graduates often move away to work, but we have fantastic opportunities here within San Antonio’s vast and growing theater scene,” she says.
She is also striving to create a work culture that is people focused and where everyone feels heard and valued.
“I want it to be a thought factory of creativity and a place where everyone loves to come to work.”
Next, from a community angle, she wants the theatre to be a safe place where people from all walks of life can come together to celebrate, experience, and enjoy art. A place that she describes as “full of love and joy.”
One way she and Runfola hope to achieve that is by continuing to offer a mix of classic stories, along with creating new plays that touch on the issues and situations that today’s modern families and children are facing, helping them to realize that they are not alone. Another is to continue to work alongside schools and teachers to provide opportunities for experiencing theatre both in and out of the classroom. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Zarb-Cousin wants to offer plenty of opportunities for everyone to engage in theatre, hoping that at least one young person might be as inspired as she was the first time she watched a Magik production.
“I hope we create young theatre lovers that become theatre advocates when they grow up,” she says. “I hope our productions and programs can embolden children to envision themselves going to college and push beyond their circumstances. That is what Magik did for me as a young adult, and now it is my turn to provide opportunities for children like myself.”
ABOUT MAGIK THEATRE
A professional theatre for young audiences established in 1994, Magik Theatre’s mission is to use the power of theatre to create Magikal storytelling for children that Activates imagination, Grows young minds, and Inspires creativity and a love of learning that is the Key to a more literate future for our community. For more information, visit magiktheatre.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @TheMagikTheatre.