Women in Business: Finding her spark

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Matchbox Children’s Theatre executive director taking theater to next level

 

By Amanda Lillie

Since Angela Sedgwick Perry became the executive director of Austin’s Matchbox Children’s Theatre in February, she has focused all her work on one holistic goal: Take the theater’s mission to the next level.

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“We’ve raised the bar on everything we do,” Sedgwick Perry said. “(We’re asking) how can we service the community? What is missing in the community, and what could be our part to fill that role?”

Sedgwick Perry initially stumbled into working with the theater when they contracted her for help with marketing in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns. Like any business reliant on people to show up, the theatre was struggling to stay afloat. Sedgwick Perry was tasked with helping to pull them out of the lockdown funk, which involved a rebrand.

After successfully generating some buzz around the theater by creating a new logo and website, Sedgwick Perry was hired as the full-time marketing director.

By then, she was hooked.

“The more I was with Matchbox, the more I got into it — what it does for kids, how it expands their education in ways you wouldn’t even think of when you think of theatre,” she said. “Their confidence, their articulation, their body movement, their creativity would just blossom.”

With a background in business management, communications and marketing — plus a passion for providing safe and welcoming spaces for kids —Sedgwick Perry has been a natural fit as executive director.

Because Sedgwick Perry is trying to steer the organization in a more strategic direction, the past several months have been about slowing down, focusing and making sure each decision has a purpose.

“A lot of what has meant so much to me being here is working with strategy, but also working with compassion at the same level,” she said. “Theater education does so much for mental health, and we make sure everyone feels welcome. We make sure they know when they’re here that nobody is going to reject how they want to act or what they’re comfortable with.”

The theater has been working with Autism Friendly Austin on ways to accommodate participants with autism and other neurodivergent needs.

“So many kids have so many stories you don’t know,” Sedgwick Perry said. “It’s so important to be sensitive to whatever makes them feel good when they’re here.”

As someone who has worked to overcome and heal from trauma, she understands firsthand how important it is for kids to feel comfortable, heard and safe.

Growing up, Sedgwick Perry was sexually assaulted at daycare for several years starting at age three and as an adult, she endured an abusive relationship.

“I’ve had a long road of overcoming abuse since I was three, so it’s a huge thing to say what perseverance and a positive attitude can do for a person,” she said. “That’s part of why I’m so attached to this job with these kids. It’s very rewarding.”

Part of her effort to ensure everyone at the theatre feels comfortable and safe included reducing the amount of classes and shows offered each year. This also benefits the theater’s mission of providing theatre education excellence. Instead of rushing to produce three shows, the cast and crew can take their time and produce two high-quality shows.

The next show in the queue is “The Velveteen Rabbit,” showing in December. The spring play will be “Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr.”

“We’re really excited to do that fully and do it well,” Sedgwick Perry said.

The theater’s home for the last year and a half has been the lower level of First United Methodist Church, which has been serving them well.

“We have a less intimidating stage and we are right where our costumes are,” Sedgwick Perry explained. “And we have a new craft center to help kids learn how to make costumes.”

The organization stores all the costumes used by Riverland Community College, Somerset Theatre, Austin High School and Ellis Middle School. All the theatre groups collaborate to lease each other everything from costumes and props to set furniture.

Part of this year’s focus has been on auditing the costume inventory and fixing garments that had seen their better day. For Halloween, the theatre held a costume rental event as a fundraiser.

“It was a fun way to say, ‘If you want something way more to the nines and you don’t want to spend $150, come here and spend $40’,” Sedgwick Perry said.

She is hoping for more public-facing events like this in the future as a way to fundraise and connect with the community.

“We’re really excited to stay involved with everyone in Austin as we grow together,” she said. “I want anyone involved in Matchbox to feel like they’re taken care of and like they want to be here.”