Front and Center Stage: Education Spotlight
McCarter is so much more than what you see on our stages. Dozens of arts professionals are hard at work every day making a difference in the lives of others. This is the first is a series of short interviews with McCarter staff, where they discuss their backgrounds, their work, and their professional passions. We recently sat down with Mary Gragen from our Education and Engagement Department.
What do you do at McCarter?
I am the education projects manager here at McCarter. My primary responsibilities are for scheduling, logistics, and production-related activities of programs including in-school/community residencies, afterschool classes and summer camps. This includes working with internal and external partners to schedule projects and programs, contracting teaching artists and designers, managing the design and delivery of production elements. I also just generally provide support to the students and teaching artists where and when needed.
Where are you from? Where do you live now?
My father was in the Navy so we traveled quite a bit when I was young (Georgia, New Mexico, Hawaii). We settled in Connecticut and I spent most of my childhood there. I now live in Highland Park, NJ.
Where did you go to school, and what did you study?
My BA in English is from Wheaton College in Massachusetts and my MFA is in Puppetry from the University of Connecticut.
What attracted you to McCarter Theatre Center?
As I started working in the New Jersey theater circuit, I understood that McCarter was known for its groundbreaking works and high-caliber productions. I distinctly remember coming to see The Winter’s Tale in 2013(?) and being incredibly impressed with richness of the performance.
What projects are you currently working on in your position?
We are currently working with several different community partners for our residency program including DOVES juvenile detention facility, Homefront, and Princeton Community Housing. We are also have an on-going relationship with both the Trenton and Princeton school districts for our in-school residency programs.
How has your work inspired you?
One of the most rewarding parts of my position at McCarter is my work with the DOVES juvenile detention facility and the Homefront campus for at-risk families in Mercer County. Classes with these community partners in particular have shown me how a meaningful theater experience can lift the soul and create change.
What is your favorite project that you have worked on thus far?
Tough one. There have been a lot of highlights. I think most recently, I loved seeing the creative and collaborative spirit of our high school intensive class during summer camp this year. They were part of a musical called Alien 8 developed by David Lee White and Kate Brennan. The students were able to make suggestions to the content and have input on their characters and truly embraced the theme of gender fluidity/identity in the show. It was so powerful to see that they weren’t just performing these characters but they truly believed in the message of equality and understanding in the piece. It was just beautiful.
What’s your favorite way to de-stress?
I just recently picked up knitting again and watching I’ve been watching the new Twin Peaks, so that’s been helpful. I also love to snuggle/play/laugh with my two sons and my husband.
Learn more about McCarter’s Education programs at mccarter.org/education.