At the west end of Gonzaga’s campus stands the massive, opulent and new Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center.
The woman behind the creation is Laura Sims, its director. She is responsible for everything that has gone into and will go into this building.
Sims said her career kind of started by accident.
“I grew up in north Alabama, completed my undergraduate degree at Auburn University and it was there that I took this interesting turn into the performing arts,” she said. “My background in stage management provides skills in organization and prioritization, figuring out what I need to accomplish each day.”
Sims began her undergraduate degree as a pre-med major and a friend on her floor convinced her to audition for a campus play. It was this experience that got her into acting and working backstage. She finished her degree at Auburn with a major in theater and minors in math and music.
“I loved acting, but I knew it wasn’t my strongest suit. Right before I graduated, I started stage managing,” Sims said. “I decided to go to graduate school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in stage management.”
She graduated from UMKC with a master of fine arts in stage management and then proceeded to work all over the country.
She went on to work at Cornell University, Birmingham Children’s Theatre and then went to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina to work at the Self Family Arts Center, then moved onto the University of Tennessee Knoxville and eventually Francis Marion University.
“Each job involved a little more responsibility. So, I went from being a stage manager to a production stage manager to production manager,” Sims said.
Sims’ job right before she decided to come to GU was at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina. They were in need of a director for their new performing arts center. She was hired out of a pool of about 50 candidates and was the founding director of the building.
It was a job that would be very similar to one she accepted at GU.
Sims said her job entails keeping everything on time and on budget.
“I took it from design development, through construction drawings through ground breaking, 2 ½ years of construction, a four-day grand opening and several successful years of programming,” Sims said.
“I was [at the performing arts center in South Carolina] for 10 years and I had gotten to a point where I knew it was time to move on and I saw an ad for this position,” Sims said.
Sims came to GU in July 2018 under a construction time crunch. She had to figure out how to finish the MWPAC in nine months.
“I was able to help design a product that was best for the end user. Architects want to design a very beautiful building, but we had to be able to work with it,” Sims said. “I looked at if we needed to switch around rooms, the direction doors opened, what would create the best pathways and much more.”
Sims works to make her facilities usable for everyone. When she came to GU, her first change was to make a costume room where just about every need a production could have the building would be able to provide those amenities. The second change was to provide storage that would hold all the equipment the any type of production may need.
“She has on-the-ground knowledge of the practical exigencies of production,” said Kathleen Jeffs, chair of the theatre and dance department. “This is a huge boon for Gonzaga because she is able to manage both the large decisions and the minutiae of opening a new building.”
“A lot of my work is using my experience to look at the layout of different buildings and see what things I can do to assist and create the best possible space for everyone,” Sims said.
“[Sims’] coordination of all of the elements of finalizing the building and welcoming our guests for the opening production takes us to the next level of arts producing and presenting at Gonzaga,” Jeffs said. “Her in-depth knowledge of everything from working with the construction team to the designers to production management to house and company management means that we are able to offer academic and external events for the Gonzaga community and the Spokane region at large.
Some of her responsibilities for the building have included branding for the MWPAC, worked directly with accountants and the budget set up, rental rates and policy, purchasing furniture, fixtures and equipment and finding hired staff. And that’s just a small portion of all her job duties.
“To describe FF&E (furniture, fixtures and equipment) I told our email club members: just picture picking up the building, turning it over and shaking it. Anything that falls out is furniture, fixtures and equipment,” Sims said. “There’s just a lot of things that go into running a building. It’s a lot like creating a business from scratch.”
Once the building opens Sims hopes to bring in not only GU -related performers but also high-quality midlevel artists. Sims said even though they may not have the budget to reasonably put on a high-level artist she is confident that they will bring in performers the public will love.
“Our goal is to educate the public about the types of shows they might see,” Sims said. “What I really want to do eventually have somebody look at the season and see names they may not recognize but still be willing to see those performances because they will trust that we bring quality artists.”
Sims, like how she found her passion for stage management, accidentally found her love for working in the educational field.
“When I started my career, I didn’t start it trying to be in the educational field, it just happened that way and I’m happy about it,” Sims said. “This is the fourth university where I’ve worked…. I am very fortunate that I found a career that allows me to keep working in the field in which I have my degree. Not many people get to do that.”