Kathy Brombacher, Founder and Artistic Director-Emeritus
Profiling our Founder During the 40th Anniversary Season of Moonlight Stage Productions
By Marcia Manna Digital Content Writer
January 16, 2020
From the start, Kathy Brombacher had her eye on the big picture.
And now that picture, a photographic image representing all that she hoped for, hangs on a wall in the entry way of her home.
The framed, aerial view of the Moonlight Amphitheatre, presented to her from the City of Vista, includes text that reads: The Kathy M. Brombacher Stage of the Moonlight Amphitheatre, Approved by the City Council of the City of Vista, Nov. 27, 2018.
“It’s really beautiful and I will always remember that date,” Brombacher says of the night that the Vista City Council decided to name the stage after her.
“Each council member who knew me spoke about what the Moonlight meant to them and the positive impact that the Moonlight has had on their lives, whether it was personally or with their family and children.”
Kathy Brombacher addresses the Vista City Council on Nov. 27, 2018
Brombacher, the founding artistic director of Moonlight Stage Productions, first heard of the dedication this past November.
The current artistic director, Steven Glaudini, and Colleen Kollar Smith, the managing director, asked her out to brunch. They met at Swami’s Cafe in Vista.
Steven Glaudini (left) with Kathy Brombacher and Colleen Kollar Smith
“We do that from time to time,” says Brombacher, who retired from the City of Vista in 2012 but continues to direct theatrical productions.
“I thought perhaps they were thinking about the 40th anniversary season and fund-raising, but they told me about the City Council meeting and I was just taken aback. It isn’t done very often – the city naming buildings for people-especially living people. I was sitting across from Colleen and I said, ‘Are you sure?’”
Glaudini and Smith, both determined to continue Brombacher’s legacy, asked her to attend the November 27 council meeting because it was “on the docket for the council to approve.” She would be asked to speak after the vote.
When Brombacher stood and addressed the council members after their unanimous approval, so many individuals involved in Vista’s musical theater community came to mind.
“I said how deeply honored I was and didn’t want to forget the people who graced the history of Moonlight and paved the way,” Brombacher recalls.
“That was Jim Porter (the late Vista parks director), Cathy Brendel (retired director of recreation and community services) and Marie Ertel (former city project manager). I mentioned all the history of the volunteers who had worked so hard on the stagehouse renovation and all the board members and donors who make up the Moonlight family. They have made such a great place in this community for this theater.”
Pete McHugh, an associate superintendent who retired from Vista Unified School District in 2006, remembers the days when he taught government and history at Colton High School, near San Bernadino. Brombacher, a Colton High School graduate, worked in the career guidance center in addition to acting in local productions.
McHugh accepted a position at Vista Unified School District in the 1970s, and when he recommended Brombacher for the drama department, she joined the staff.
McHugh remembers Brombacher as a woman of “steely vision.”
“Kathy had a master’s degree in theater arts but did not have her teaching credential, so that first year, she was teaching drama and going to school at night to acquire her certification,” McHugh recalls.
“She was going through an exhausting schedule. One of the shows that stood out when she worked for the school district was when they put on ‘Man of La Mancha’ at Lincoln Junior High, now called the Vista Magnet Middle School. Rather than using the small theater at Vista High, they actually built a stage and all the sets inside the gym so they could have a larger production. Kathy is a rare combination of tenacity with a personal, caring touch. It makes everyone around her want to jump on board.”
In the 1980s, the big picture required a big imagination.
As a new drama teacher for VUSD, Brombacher proposed the idea of staging plays in Brengle Terrace Park.
With the support of the city of Vista and the school district, she founded Vista Summer Theatre Festival with a group of academics and community volunteers.
The stage was little more than a cement slab on a grassy hillside.
There was no electricity or running water, except for a single spigot. Tree branches served as costume hangers and there were Porta-Potties instead of bathrooms.
And yet, the shows began to attract a following.
In 1984, the city of Vista took over the operations and renamed the venue the Moonlight Amphitheatre.
In those early days, there were fine times and fiascoes, danger and daring.
Cathy Brendel, director of parks and community services for nearly three decades, was Brombacher’s supervisor.
She and Brombacher worked together through every sort of challenge that might befall an outdoor theater startup program.
“We did have crazy times,” says Brendel laughing softly. “We were figuring out how to deal with swarms of bees, spiders and snakes, lightening storms, electricity blackouts, a broken truss, a fire in front of the stage during a performance, errant sprinklers and more.”
For the next two decades, Moonlight Stage Productions built a reputation that extended beyond city limits, with shows that drew increasingly larger audiences.
Kathy Brombacher (left) with Cathy Brendel
Routine meetings between Brombacher and Brendel involved everything from securing rehearsal space to reviewing royalty and equity contracts to sharing updates on the Moonlight Cultural Foundation, the organization’s fundraising arm.
Brendel, who retired in 2008, says that when it came to negotiating the many details involved in selecting a season of musicals, Brombacher was “articulate, warm and filled with visionary ideas.”
One goal was to use funding in a way that ensured the right balance of local talent and equity, or union actors. The combination had to be cost effective while providing audiences with a professional, Broadway-like show.
The City supported the effort by paying staff and actors a salary and many advanced to notable theater careers (and returned to star in Moonlight’s productions), including Deven May, Eric Anderson, Jennifer Rias, Eric Kunze and Bets Malone.
“So many are successful,” enthuses Bill Fortmueller, who became director of recreation and community services after Brendel retired. “That is a tribute to Kathy and the directors and production people she brought in. She would work 15 hour days-being there for rehearsals and during shows. Her commitment and dedication was just incredible.”
In 2009, with funding from the Moonlight Cultural Foundation and revenues from the city of Vista’s half-cents sales tax increase (Proposition L), the Moonlight Amphitheatre was transformed into a multimillion-dollar stage house.
The new, state-of-the-art venue never looked better. It spread like a fan over rolling hills, with dramatic sculptures flanking the entrance. A backstage, new restroom facilities and two box offices were added, all surrounded by towering Eucalyptus trees.
Actors, stage hands, lighting technicians and audiences hail its modern capabilities and today, the Moonlight Amphitheatre is home to year-around programming.
Behind the scenes, Moonlight Stage Productions exemplifies what Fortmueller calls “a true community feeling.”
Essentially, it’s shared gratitude for a long-standing success story and an exciting future.
In 2018, Moonlight Stage Productions broke all attendance records with its staging of “Momma Mia!”
And an engraved plaque bearing Brombacher’s name, placed on the stage facing the audience, pays tribute to what Brombacher envisioned for decades.
“The years I was director, I was just so proud of what was going on,” Fortmueller confesses.
“And even now, there is no better tribute than to name the stage after her.”