Peak Performances

Mountain Play Association welcomes new leadership

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New Mountain Play executive director Eileen Grady (center) with Mountain Play stars Tyler McKenna and Susan Zelinsky. Photo by Gary Ferber

There’s been a shakeup on Mount Tamalpais.

You might not have felt the tremors, but some major organizational shifts have taken place in the back office of the venerable Mountain Play Association, the ambitious nonprofit that annually turns the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre—near the summit of Mount Tamalpais—into one of the largest and best-attended theater spaces in the country.

After 12 years at the helm of Marin County’s most unique theater company, Sara Pearson is stepping down as executive director of the Mountain Play, which marked its 105th year of Mount Tam productions this year with Mamma Mia!

Pearson is no longer executive director, but remains on staff as the newly formed director of leadership and development. She’ll focus on fundraising, board development and long-term strategy. Longtime associate producer Eileen Grady takes over as executive director.

“Eileen Grady has been my thought partner for nearly a decade, and has been an active participant in every Mountain Play strategic decision during that time,” Pearson says. “There is no one with more dedication, knowledge and readiness to step up to lead this organization into the next adventure.”

“I’m absolutely honored and thrilled to be given this opportunity and responsibility,”  says Grady. “There’s no greater space in the world to create theater than on Mount Tam. Outdoor theater is always a challenge, and with the Mountain Play, we’ve got this amazing, living and breathing venue that is like another talented but impulsive cast member. The Mountain Play is a crossroads where art and nature meet. When there are thousands of people up there watching a show, the immersive communal experience of the Mountain Play just can’t be topped.”

Grady has lots of experience producing and directing theatrical productions. She received her BA business administration with a minor in humanities degree from Dominican University and has worked with numerous nonprofit companies staging plays, musicals and operas. A musician too, she’s also the guitarist of the Matt Kaiser Band.

“I became affiliated with the Mountain Play when I started creating and directing the fall fundraiser revues in 2006,” says Grady, who grew up in Marin County, and was raised to appreciate theater and music, and treated to annual excursions up Mount Tam to watch the Mountain Play. “There’s just something about the mountain, combined with the art of the musical, that really just captured my imagination from the beginning.”

Pearson has worked at the company for 12 years and joined the staff during the build-up to the 2007 production of the musical Hair. She took on The Wizard of Oz the following year, then guided the organization through one of its most uncertain and rocky periods, which included weathering the Great Recession, to say nothing of the retirement of longtime artistic director James Dunn in 2013. Dunn saved the Mountain Play 30 years earlier when he started to direct large-scale musicals atop the mountain. He put live horses and cows in shows like Fiddler on the Roof. He placed trucks onstage and fielded actual airplanes in the sky in South Pacific. He transformed the event from a sparsely attended novelty into a popular, calendar-anchoring annual extravaganza.

And 2019 promises yet another must-see moment, when the Mountain Play presents the beloved 1950s-era musical Grease, which Grady counts among her favorite musicals. She’s honoring the tried-and-true formula— for now.  Audiences, she says, can expect to see new “Foothill productions” —smaller shows staged off the mountain in collaboration with other local theater companies.

 

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