by Lou Mancinelli
After a 2011 Pennsylvania Ballet production of “La Fille Mal Gardée,” a group of blind and low-vision audience members from Associated Services for the Blind in Philadelphia met a ballerina backstage for a touch tour. It’s a happening that gives blind and low-vision audience members the chance to feel a production hands on.
Backstage, the ballerina allowed the audience members to touch her ankles and calves as she twirled on the tips of her toes so they could feel what the motion of ballet was like. The meeting was facilitated by Art-Reach.
Founded in 1986, Art-Reach is a Philadelphia organization that serves as a central connector between arts organizations and traditionally underserved audiences, in this case, low-income individuals and people, young and old, with various types of disabilities, both cognitive and physical.
Art-Reach serves as the conduit that exposes and makes more accessible the programs and staff of 125 active arts and cultural organizations for members at more than 150 organizations including residential homes, schools, churches, support groups, after school programs, nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation programs and human service agencies in the tri-state area.
This year Art-Reach worked with the Free Library of Philadelphia at six different branches in low-income communities across the city on a program that brought an artist to each branch for art workshops. In the past year, Art-Reach took on a Chestnut Hill connection. “We really want to be partners on both sides,” said Marion Young, who was raised in Chestnut Hill and became executive director at Art-Reach in September of last year.
Young, 35, was born in Chestnut Hill Hospital, raised on West Chestnut Hill Avenue and attended Germantown Friends School from the time she began learning addition until she graduated high school. In 2000, she graduated cum laude from Princeton University with a degree in American History. (Her parents still live in Chestnut Hill.)
College was followed by a career on Broadway. For more than 10 years, Young worked as a stage and production manager on and off Broadway, where she ultimately became managing director of The Civilians Theater Company from 2008 to 2012.
She had discovered her affinity for running productions in college. Young played lacrosse at Princeton her freshmen year but preferred other extracurricular activities. She played clarinet in the orchestra and in her sophomore year started working as a stage manager on school productions.
But in college she never knew stage manager could be a real job. When she later realized it was possible, she enrolled in the Yale School of Drama, which has produced Meryl Streep and playwrights like Tony Award-winner Christopher Durang. She earned her master’s degree in 2005.
This led to Young’s working with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, one of America’s most famous and influential playwrights. The summer after her first year in grad school, she did an internship in Los Angeles, where she met Wilson’s stage manager, which led to Young’s working on a production of Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” in 2003. That’s also the summer she met the man, Brian, whom she would later marry.
Young finished at Yale in 2005, and between 2003 and 2008 she worked as a production stage manager on more than 25 shows at 13 theaters across the country. She oversaw the original production of Wilson’s Tony Award-winning “Radio Golf” at eight cities across the U.S., including on Broadway.
What’s the connection between her theater background and her current work as executive director of Art-Reach? “In the theater the production manager is like the captain of all the things that make a production run smoothly. She is the connection between the directors and the actors, as well as between the stagehands and producers.”
Sometimes her job was to listen to an actor complain and to have the awareness to handle the talent’s needs while keeping the complaints from reaching the director’s ears. “I was amazed how much being able to manage personalities helped when I moved on to other types of work,” said Young.
When she decided to put some feelers out towards the end of her run as managing director of The Civilians, word about the Art-Reach program reached her. It provided a chance for more stability. She interviewed and took the job and moved with her husband to Fairmount last year. “It was a good compromise of not being in the theater but still being in the arts,” said Young.
Now she is working to provide the artistic experience she has always had for people who have had less exposure to the theater during their lives.
For more information about how to support Art-Reach, visit www.art-reach.org.