Spotlight on Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert & Jennifer Coville-Schweigert

interview

{Header image by Jason Hunt.}

Note: this article was published in the September 2011 issue of KC Stage Magazine.

The partnership (both on and off stage) of the ladies behind She&Her Productions, Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert and Jennifer Coville-Schweigert, definitely is a case for the proverb ‘opposites attract’. In Jennifer’s own words, “Boisterous, outgoing, actor – yeah. And {Tiffany} – subtle, observer, director.” And it shows in the interview. Tiffany is quiet, answering in short bursts almost like she was shy to say anything too much; while Jennifer not only is talkative, but is more than willing to go a little off topic with just the slightest permission.

Both Tiffany and Jennifer have been involved in the Kansas City theatre community for a number of years, and how they got together continues the concept of a romantic comedy.

Tiffany grew up in Olathe, and got a BA in theatre education from Emporia State. After a brief stint of teaching high school theatre in Wichita, she came back to the Kansas City area. The love of theatre actually predates her birth, as her mother was pregnant with Tiffany while playing Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Meanwhile, Jennifer was born in Queens, and was an army brat who travelled around a lot as a result. She has gone to both Stephens College and St. Mary’s, and is just a few credits shy of getting her degree in theatre, having been doing theatre since she was six. Her dad got stationed in Kansas City, and she began acting in various shows in the area.

KC Stage’s September 2011 cover. Photo by Jason Hunt.

The two met, in a bar of all places, having seen each other at various theatre events, and started dating partly due to their mutual love of theatre (they got married in 2009). Jennifer had prompted Tiffany’s re-involvement with theatre. “I met Tiffany and told her about all these awesome directing opportunities here in Kansas City. I was like, ‘Well, get back into it, if that’s what you love, you know?'” she says with a laugh.

Tiffany continues the story, “With both of our love of theatre, we kept going to see theatre and doing theatre, and we’re like, ‘Well, I think we can do this. Why don’t we give this a shot?’ And so here we are.”

And thus She&Her Productions was born. Tiffany introduces herself as the “Her”, and is the artistic director of the up and coming company, while Jennifer is the “She” and is the board president and producer.

It was through a friend of theirs that led them to find their first theatre space, the Emerald in the West Bottoms, normally used for visual artists for gallery space. Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things was done in June 2010, with the added aspect of collaborating with artists to show their work as well. (If you’re not familiar with the plot of The Shape of Things, the theme delves around what exactly art is.)

“We called ourselves She&Her Productions,” Jennifer says, “and we borrowed some folding chairs and had a minimalistic set and did a show to full houses every single night, and incorporated local artists to display their work on the walls.” That made the two realize they must be doing something right, and started looking for a more permanent home.

Photo courtesy the She&Her Productions Facebook page.

After that, they moved into the Crane building, also in the West Bottoms, naming the space The Birdhouse.

“A raw, very raw warehouse,” Jennifer continues the story with a laugh. “With the help of tons of friends, we turned it into a theatre space basically from the ground up. We bought theatre chairs, we started just kind of getting things here and there, lighting and sound and all the things that you’d need to make a workable theatre. We then did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, that was our first show in our new space.”

Charlie Brown was also a success. “We thought we were going in the right direction,” Jennifer says. “Then, we realized the difficulties of a warehouse space. We got into the winter months, and realized there was one functioning heater in that building.”

“We use the word ‘functioning’ lightly,” Tiffany says with just a hint of sarcasm.

“So this is when we started to get into the actual realm of the business aspect of it,” Jennifer says. “It was fun putting on the shows, but now we were in the business side, the building aspects of it. Regardless of if we put on good shows or not, people were not relating to the shows – they were just relating to how cold it was in the space.”

So, they started looking for a different space, and are now in the River’s Edge Theater in the River Market.

“That was right about almost a year,” Jennifer says. “We’ve learned the ins and outs a little bit of starting up a business: the funding, the costs of everything involved, the setting up of the theatre space. So, we said, ‘All right: going into this next year, we’re going to get more organized.'”

This organization includes an ambitious season of nine productions, two of which are in repertory.

Their new production space in the Bottoms. Photo courtesy the She&Her Productions Facebook page.

“We didn’t really have a concept {when they started},” says Jennifer. “We’re just like, ‘We want to produce theatre.’ And now, I feel the place that we’re at is way more organized: we have a concept, an idea of what we want to get across in our theatre shows, and what we’ll want to get out to the theatre community.” It helps that Jennifer’s day job is as the director of marketing and sales for Old Town Lofts, which means her marketing expertise definitely gets utilized in promoting She&Her.

Tiffany further develops explaining what the She&Her mission is. “I think it’s basically we just want to produce shows that’s going to give artists in Kansas City the opportunity that they’re not going to get at another theatre, you know? We’re not trying to be the Unicorn or any of the bigger professional theatres in Kansas City. Yeah, it’d be awesome to get there, but we know that we’re nowhere near that. We’re trying to bring the opportunity to young, new actors in the Kansas City area that can get their feet wet. And, you know, essentially doing great theatre.”

But despite being the She and Her of She&Her Productions, they’re quick to state that the company is more than just the two of them. “She still wants to direct at different places,” Jennifer says, motioning to Tiffany, “I want to act: we don’t want to monopolize She&Her. Yes, we’re the basis of it, but we want other people to get in. We still want to be in touch with the community and support other theatres. I think all the theatres in Kansas City should work together in that aspect: we all just kind of support each other. “We have other directors coming in, directing the shows. We just didn’t want it to be the Jennifer and Tiffany show, you know? We want people to feel at home at She&Her and know that they can come in and express themselves in that space as well.”

But it’s the teamwork behind She&Her that Tiffany is most proud of. “Most importantly, theatre is a collaboration art. It’s the art of collaboration. So I’ve learned you can’t do it all by yourself. When I tried to teach, I tried to do it all on my own and I got burned out. You have to have a team, and you have to have a really good team, and you have to be able to trust that team that they’re going to do their role or their part or whatever.”

Jennifer knows that the two have learned a lot in their first year of running She&Her. “I think from a business standpoint, to anyone who’s looking to start their own, just to have a plan in place, to think out that plan. Don’t just fly by the seat of your pants. I think that’s what we kind of did the first year: we just kind of learned as we went instead of having some definitive stuff in place. So, I strongly suggest getting organized and getting your plan visualized before you go through with it. And just love what you do.

“Do shows that you feel passionate about,” Tiffany continues. “I haven’t done one show this year that I haven’t felt passionate about. You just got to do shows that you feel some connection and passionate about.”

She&Her Productions will be producing Neil LaBute’s The Mercy Seat Sept 8 – 17, and more information can be found at www.sheandherproductions.com.