I Never Looked Back
An Interview with New Managing Director Libby Amato
Libby Amato has a nearly 20-year history with Next Act. In 2004, she started as a House Manager at our previous venue, the Off-Broadway Theatre. Since then, she has occupied no fewer than nine roles within the organization: onstage, backstage and in the office. In May 2023, Libby was named Next Act’s Interim Managing Director, and just last month, she was named our new Managing Director. We sat down with Libby for a chat about her journey at Next Act Theatre and what she’s excited about this season.
Q: How did you get into theatre?
A: My very first experience was in the fourth grade. I starred in a play called ROBOT RESTAURANT, where I played Mama, the restaurant owner. There were robots working for me, and hilarity ensured. I remember my dad being my very first acting coach and helping me find ways to make it more than just reading the words. From then on, I was hooked.
Another strong memory is the first time that my parents took me to American Players Theatre and we saw A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. I said “I want to do that, I want to be that, that is amazing.”
There was never really any thought of doing anything else – much to, I’m sure, my parents’ chagrin. I look back now, and my dad, while I was in college, was constantly saying, “maybe just one business class. Maybe just the one.” And
I thought “I’ll never need that!” And here I am, and he’s somewhere, just shaking his head and laughing at me. And I never looked back.
Q: How did that lead you to starting at Next Act?
A: I went to Carroll University and studied theatre there, and shortly after I graduated, a good friend of mine had seen that there was a notice for House Managers needed at Next Act. We both applied here and were both hired. I still remember that interview very fondly: it was with [former Managing Director Charles Kakuk] at the Off-Broadway space.
Very quickly, Next Act started to feel like a professional home. I fell in love with the work, with the people, and there was never a thought that I would not be here in some way.
Q: What else were you doing in those early days?
A: Like so many young theatre professionals, I was out there hustling. I was performing at a number of theatres, as much as I could. I also did a lot of commercial and print work through the agencies.
I got to a certain point where I thought, “a little stability would be good.” For a time, I was with Kohl’s Wild Theater, and that was a bit more of a regular gig.
Then, I worked at Skylight Music Theatre for about three years in the Development Department. I really enjoyed that: it was wonderful to have stability, flexibility and creativity all in the wonderful environment of the theatre.
Around the same time, a group of artists (myself included) saw some plays that we really wanted to produce and wanted to make some work happen, so we banded together and formed a small company called Umbrella Group. We got our non-profit status and, for several years, worked very hard and produced some shows that I’m very proud of. It was a wonderful learning experience as far as all the elements of producing a show, about how a non-profit works, about fundraising… for me, it was a kind of crash course on all of those elements.
After about three years, I left Skylight to go to a position outside of theatre, and I found very quickly that it wasn’t going to work for me. It was a wonderful organization, but I needed to be around the arts.
It wasn’t long after that there started to be a need here at Next Act for more regular help in administration, and I worked my way up from there.
Q: What are you looking forward to at Next Act?
A: I am so excited about all the new energy that we have right now. Not only the new staff, but there is a sense of reinvigoration in the whole building. We come into this time well-prepared for the growth that we want to achieve. David [Cecsarini] left us in a really strong position to be able to say, “okay, great. This has been an amazing company for such a long time, and we’re going to continue in that, but we’re also going to take another step.”
We’re going to continue doing the amazing work we do, but how can we do more of it? How can we dig even deeper into what the community needs and serve them even more? We have the exact right team in place to get us to that next level.
Q: Why have you stuck with theatre?
A: I don’t think there is any form of storytelling more powerful. There is something about sitting in a dark room, seeing real people living a story in front of you – there is nothing else like it. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it as a child, but I think I’ve known that since I was a child. It’s this living, breathing experience, and it’s a give-and-take between the actors and the audience. I can’t imagine not having that. I think it changes people in a way that no other form of storytelling can do.
Q: What else are you up to?
A: I got interested in soap-making when I was in college. I had a small business after I graduated for a few years before I got too busy with theatre and decided to put it aside. Then, about five years ago, I decided I’d bring it back.
I run Abbondanza Soap Co. and I make natural soap products. I especially like it because it’s something tangible. Theatre is such an amazing, magical world, but it’s very intangible. When it’s gone, it’s gone. I think I needed to balance that. There’s something lovely about creating something that you can hold onto, and touch, and feel. And it smells really good!
I’m keeping it small, but it’s something I hold onto because I enjoy it.
And I have two cats who are amazing and I love them so much. They’re my “feline housemates.”