Q&A With Alum Stefani Kochanski
Spotlight Date:March 23, 2016
Before Stefani Kochanski began working at the School of the Arts Foundation, she was a Class of 1996 theatre student at the Palm Beach County School of the Arts. Now the Director of Development, Stefani studied Theatre Design and Technology at Florida State University, toured as a Production Manager for various shows including “Menopause the Musical”, and was the Operations Coordinator for contemporary art fair, palmbeach3. The Foundation is lucky to have her back as part of the team.
Q: Favorite Dreyfoos teachers?
Q: What is the most profound change you experienced at Dreyfoos (SOA)?
I gained a passion for the arts that I didn’t have before. I learned from everyone that surrounded me that no matter what you do – if you have passion – then you have something to keep striving for.
Q: After college, you went on tour as a production manager. What was that like?
Immediately after college I worked at the Cuillo Centre for the Arts on Clematis Street. It was a great experience – learning the rhythms of the theater world and finding my niche. One of the shows we produced was “Menopause the Musical”. The show ran off and on for a year and a half. The cast, crew, and creators really became family. When the opportunity arose to go out on tour as a production stage manager I took it.
I was in my early twenties and couldn’t wait to get out there and have an adventure doing something I loved. I was working for a company that produced non-routed tours, which means we would go to a venue for a few days or a few weeks then would be off for a little while before the next gig. It was the best of both worlds – I was traveling the country seeing and experiencing new things and still had time to come back home and connect with friends and family. We performed “Menopause the Musical” all over the US and in addition to figuring out life on the road I met some of the most amazing people – people I remain friends with today.
After a year of working steady on MTM I picked up some small shows to fill in the breaks. At one point I did a week of performances of “Sisters Late Nite Catechism” in North Dakota and Minnesota … in February. I had never experienced that kind of cold in my entire life. People were ice fishing on the Mississippi River, I spun our SUV through a frozen corn field, and I ate the most amazing pie in a tiny diner in Fargo, where my waitress said “You Betcha” in the most amazing accent. I traveled to Edinburgh Fringe Festival with “The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron”. The shows were spectacular, the city is hauntingly beautiful, and the Guinness was out of this world.
For anyone who has the opportunity to get on a tour – I say do it! It was some of the most fun I can recall. The work was hard and the hours could be long but the experience was life affirming.
Q: Had you always wanted to pursue the technical aspect of theatre? What drew you to that?
Growing up I took dance classes at Jon Mullen, and Ballet Florida. I loved performing and the thrill of being on stage. In 1989 when the Palm Beach County School of the Arts was preparing to open the Deans of the art programs went on tour to local middle schools promoting the new arts school. I dragged my family to the open house because I knew this school was for me. Then I grew six inches. My dream of being a dancer was thwarted. My sister Kati got in for Visual Arts and every day I grew a little more jealous as she went off to school. So, I put my focus on my middle school drama class. I learned some monologues, a song, and the dancing was a cinch. I was accepted into the Theatre Department in the fall of 1991, the beginning of my 8th grade year.
The acting classes were fun, but there was something about the scene shop that I loved. I think part of it was growing up with a Dad that knew how to fix anything. I already knew how to use a circular saw, a paint roller was an extension of my own arm, and I could use a cordless drill with the best of them. I spent countless hours covered in paint, sawdust, and styrofoam particles. I spent my evenings cloaked in black silently waiting backstage until the lights went out just to move a piece of scenery or help with a quick change. I lived in that scene shop and in those theatres.
Q: You also worked for palmbeach3 contemporary art fair as the Operations Coordinator. How do you think the skills and experience you gained in technical theatre and the art fairs have benefitted you at the Foundation?
Responsibility and multi-tasking! In theatre if you don’t show up there was nobody to cover for you. In all of these professions there are many things happening simultaneously so organization and multi-tasking are key.
Q: What made you want to come back to Dreyfoos (SOA) and work at the Foundation?
Dreyfoos changed my life and continues to change my life. Every day when I walk onto this campus I am changed. I learn from these students with their boundless energy and thirst for more. I learn something from the generosity of our community and the people who continue to support the mission of the Dreyfoos School of the Arts Foundation and this amazing school. It is my privilege to work for the Foundation and to do my part in giving back to a school that gave me so much.
Q: Is there something Dreyfoos (SOA) could have provided that could have better prepared you for your college and career?
Honestly, no. When I got to college I thought ... Is this it? Is it supposed to be this easy? I worked such long hours on my academics and in the theatre that I was shocked that during my freshman year of college I could occasionally take an afternoon nap. Things, of course, got more stressful and busy as I got more involved with theatre productions but overall the School of the Arts was a great experience and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Q: What is your favorite part of being the Director of Development here?
I love that what we do here every day can change a student’s life! By providing Artists in Residence, Guest Artists, Scholarships, and program support we are able to enhance the education of our Dreyfoos students.
Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge?
That our work is never done! There is always a student, classroom, studio, or program in need.
Q: Have you had the opportunity to work with any other Dreyfoos (SOA) alums?
Tons! I worked with several alums when I was working in theater. And now in the Foundation I share an office with two DSOA grads. I went to high school with some of the Dreyfoos teachers, and it is always special when alumni stop by to teach a master class.
Q: What recommendations do you have for our current DSOA students?
Challenge yourself by trying something new! Meet students from other departments, learn about what they do, and collaborate!
Q: In a brief statement can you explain “What Dreyfoos means to me”?
The School of the Arts taught me passion and compassion. It is the place that shaped me into the person I am today.