Following Theatrical Footsteps

This summer’s 11 interns came to the Westport Country Playhouse through various routes, both literal and figurative.

Gwen McKenzie’s was by the womb.

Her grandfather — Jim McKenzie — was a Playhouse fixture from 1959 to 1999.  He served most of those 4 decades as executive producer.

Her father, Kevin — now in technical theater — worked at the Playhouse in the 1980s.

Gwen McKenzie with a portrait of her grandfather, Jim McKenzie.

Gwen’s path to the Playhouse began in Florida, where she attended an arts middle and high school.  She worked in props, set design and technical direction, and stage managed “West Side Story.”

She came north for NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts BFA program in theater design and technology.  This year, she was wardrobe supervisor for “The Who’s Tommy.”

Last summer, Gwen interned at another theater where her grandfather was a longtime executive producer:  Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Wisconsin.

But Westport holds a special fondness.

“I came up when I was little to visit Grandpa,” she says.  “I don’t remember which show I saw, but I thought it was pretty good!”

Her involvement with theater came despite her father’s advice.

“He knows there’s not a whole bunch of money in it,” she says.  “But he’s supportive now, and he knows there are so many good people in theater.”

Stage management appeals to Gwen because it touches all areas:  sound, lights, scenery and costumes.  She’s also learning about marketing and development.

Right now she’s the production assistant for “Happy Days,” which opens tonight.  Her next project:  “I Do!  I Do!”

“A few” interns know about her legacy, she says.  They should:  Many of the old posters plastered on the walls bear his name.

Anne Keefe knew Jim McKenzie well.  On Gwen’s 1st day, the artistic advisor mentioned his name to her.

Gwen would love to be stage manager of a regional theater.

“That was my grandfather’s 1st job,” she notes.  “He’d love it!”

6 responses to “Following Theatrical Footsteps

  1. Ida Mai Millstein

    Lovely story and a lovely symmtetry to the saga. Well welcomed whorl Wooger.

  2. As Gwen’s proud aunt, I’m thrilled she’s having this opportunity . . . and incidentally, theater runs in her blood on both sides. Our grandfather was in vaudeville, and I interned at the Allenberry Playhouse in the 70s (where I did props for “I Do! I Do!”) Go get ’em, Gwen!

  3. Neil and Pat McCarty

    Dear Gwen, I think your Aunt Rusty forwarded your news to us. We are long time friends of the McKenzie family in Appleton, but after your grandfather Jim had already left for the Theater. Helen and Basil were very hospitable to us in our early days in the Fox Valley. There were many parties in the basement of their house, often with Helen entertaining on the violin and games of charades.
    Tom and Rusty have been staunch friends. We have a standing date for the opening of the Peninsula Players season. This year was one of the best.
    Our son, Tom, was an intern with your dad, Kevin, one summer. They were in “Rosenkrantz and Guilderstern are Dead.” Tom fell off the porch on the old prop building and lost a tooth. He’ll never forget that summer.
    We congratulate you on your career in the theater.

  4. Neil and Pat McCarty

    Congratulations, Gwen, on your budding career in the theater, carrying on your grandfather and grandmother’s and your father’s careers in the theaters.
    We have been McKenzie friends since Helen and Basil welcomed us into the fold when we settled in the Fox Valley. Tom and Rusty continue the friendship.
    Our son,Tom, was an intern one summer with your dad, Kevin. They had bit parts in “Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead.” Many happy memories.

  5. Congratulations Gwen! I’m a teacher at Bak Middle School and a friend of your father. I knew when I would watch you in our productions and later know of your behind the scenes work, you were destined to be successful. I wish you the best of luck in all of your endeavours.

  6. Terianne Amedee and Jimmy Cantwell

    Somehow it didn’t pick up my first name and Jim’s name. Jim works with your dad at the Kravis Center.