Angela Poole, manager of the Helena Civic Center

Angela Poole, manager of the Helena Civic Center, poses for a photograph on the civic center's stage recently.

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

You could say Angela Poole has been preparing much of her life for the job she just stepped into. She’s the new Helena Civic Center manager since mid-September.

“I just love being here and love the building and really love the people of Helena,” she said.

And she couldn’t have arrived at a more exciting time for the civic center, which is in the midst of a study on how to revitalize the facility (see sidebar on online survey).

“I have always admired the building … as a landmark,” she said, ever since moving here in 2012 with her husband Kal Poole, who is the managing director of Grandstreet Theatre, and their three young children.

She brings to the job some amazing skills, having run a major theater complex in Columbus, Ohio --the Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, where she was a facilities coordinator.

“It’s very closely related to what I did in Columbus. I had the first five floors of the building. The biggest theater was called, Capitol Theatre,” which seats 900. Plus there were three smaller black-box theaters.

“It was very fast-paced,” said Angela. It’s the home of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Met. It’s also in high demand for other theater performances and comedy acts.

“I have a lot of experience dealing with event planning and performance on multiple levels,” she said. “It was a great way to get my foot in the door with multi-tasking performance arts groups.”

Originally from the Portland/Vancouver area, Angela was on a different career path until she saw her high school’s performance of “Anything Goes.”

“I had never seen a big musical like that before. I remember sitting in the seats and thinking I want to be a part of that,” she said. “It was overwhelming -- costumes and lights, singing and dancing. ...And I knew I wanted to do theater. I got into theater, and photography and the arts at that point.”

“I chose Southern Oregon University to be close to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival” in Ashland. “In college I did stage management, costuming and lighting … and a tiny bit of performance. I like the guts of theater -- what makes theater work.”

Her first professional theater job was with The Shakespeare Company who wanted someone to spray actors with water in "Othello" ...and dip their costumes in buckets of water. They had to look like they’d just stepped off the ocean.

“I was the most dedicated water sprayer you have ever met in your life. I took it incredibly seriously,” she said. And soon she was offered a job as the full time wardrobe assistant.

“I was there for five or six years and worked a lot of fun years of my life.”

And that’s also where she met Kal, who was in “Julius Caesar.”

Within a few years, the couple found themselves in Ohio, so Kal could pursue a graduate theater degree at Ohio State and later started his own theater company.

Meanwhile Angela worked various jobs that were theater-related, until landing her job at the Riffe Center.

Much as she loved it, she could see how homesick Kal was for Montana.

When Angela was pregnant with their third child, Charlie, “that was the deciding factor. ...It was time to get back to Montana.”

She admits the decision was risky because they had nothing in front of them.

But then the phone rang.

And Kal was offered the job at Grandstreet. 

Angela recalls that she and her sister jumped up and down in the living room for 10 minutes screaming.

So how does Angela balance co-parenting a young family and working a lot of nights and weekends?

“That’s always been a part of my career and that’s what I love,” she said. “Kal and I know how to do this very well. ...It’s what we both thrive on. We have a goofy house full of kids, with theater parents and a lot of energy. It’s a lot of fun.”

“They love the theater,” she said of their kids. They are always creating their own productions at home. And two of them are in Grandstreet’s “Lion King” holiday production.

Thursday morning, as Angela was being interviewed, some exciting new work was underway next door in the civic center theater with the installation of new LED lights and a light table.

Not only are they more energy efficient, but incredibly easy for the lighting crew to change the colors of the lighting by a mere touch of a button.

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In the past few years, the civic center redid its sound system, she said.

And now, the city is in the midst of a major study by The Cultural Planning Group that is asking community members -- what do they want to see at the civic center?

There were a series of focus groups in the past month seeking ideas and feedback. A brief online survey is at the civic center’s website http://www.helenaciviccenter.com/home.html that seeks public comment. And for those who respond, there’s a chance of winning a $100 gift certificate.

A public meeting with The Cultural Planning Group is 7 p.m. Dec. 7, when the community can learn what they’ve found out.

Angela doesn’t know at this time if the civic center will go back to planning its own performance schedule (Helena Civic Center Presents), or not. A lot depends on the findings of the survey. The Helena Performing Arts Foundation (formerly Live! at the Civic) is also taking the year off.

In the meantime, the civic center continues to host many of Helena’s premiere events -- from symphony performances, to Nutcrackers to the annual Festival of Trees.

“One of the things I love very much about being here....There are memories made in this building that even in my short amount of time I’ve been a part of.

“I want this to be a place that when you come in here, you’re building a memory.”

When groups choose the civic center for their event, “I want them to know they’re going to have a stellar experience, that their event will go well and be beautiful.”

“I’m coming in at a really, really great time. I feel very lucky this review is happening and I get to be part of that going forward.

“I drive up to this place everyday and feel very lucky that I get...to be part of that.”

“Really and truly, it’s something I’ve wanted for four years.”

“It’s really a dream job. I’m really lucky.”

Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 marga.lincoln@helenair.com

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