By Scott MacClelland
You can’t really tell from her picture in costume that Koly McBride is a force of nature, a whirlwind of creativity and discipline. That focused energy is channeled into her two Paper Wing Theatre venues in Monterey. She says of her life in theater, “I was born with it.” But she didn’t know it as a toddler from the small college town of Ellensburg, WA, to which her family returned after years in Seattle to “live off the land,” delivering their homegrown produce to the Saturday farmers market in the heart of town. But her family, free spirits themselves, always encouraged her to entertain.
Then when she was 14 her family abandoned the rural life for Hawthorne in Los Angeles County, where her true calling “got activated.” She says the move was “the neatest thing my dad could have done. It changed my life, my views.” She got into theater in high school under the guidance of a “great” drama teacher, and won her first major role as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then in 1989, after graduating, she hooked up with Phyllis Patterson, founder of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, then held in Agoura Hills, first as a ‘street’ performer then taking on some of the admin chores. (Patterson, who died at 82 in June, was a high school English and history teacher, and hatched the idea in her Laurel Canyon back yard, never imagining that it would be replicated in communities all over the country.)
That experience gave McBride all the tools she needed to found Paper Wing Theatre in Salinas. “It taught me how to think quickly and how to put on a huge event.” The Pattersons held the key to entertaining an audience, she says: “When you give them something to hold, like a paper airplane, or make them feel, they’ll never forget and they’ll keep coming back.” (Yes, that’s where the name Paper Wing comes from.) “Phyllis had a vision and she chased it. Paper Wing wouldn’t exist but for her Pleasure Faire.”
In Salinas, McBride imagined herself as a drama teacher, but realized “I wanted something else.” She moved Paper Wing to Monterey in 2007, bought out the company that occupied the theater on Hoffman Avenue, and took over the lease. She was thrilled to discover detritus, “layers of treasure,” from companies that had previously used the space. “I want to jump in and get it done,” is her description of herself.
In February this year she bought the Stardust Playhouse company on North Fremont in Monterey from Kirsten Clapp, and took on that lease as well. “Kirsten is a good friend and a talented director and brilliant filmmaker,” she says. “She directed Tracy Letts’ Bug for us.” She needed to be closer to her son in San Francisco, McBride explains. Opening this weekend at Paper Wing Fremont is Bad Panda, a comedy by Megan Gogerty about the last two surviving pandas, one of whom is in love with a gay alligator.
McBride’s partner, Lloyd Brewer, came to theater late but was a quick study and a boundless source of the energy demanded to run a company. “He knew all the work it took to keep the theater going. He said we should push the envelope to do things more edgy, which was starting to happen before we left Salinas.”
McBride estimates that over its existence Paper Wing has done about 200 shows. “We have great people who want to be part of Paper Wing, helping, volunteering, operating the lights, running the box office,” she says. She describes her crew of 22 volunteers as “awesome.” Paper Wing exists “to do the art that drives me,” she says, and is convinced that she is on the right path “with this little goofy company that I started when I was 20.”
“The coolest thing about my job is watching others succeed,” she says. “The girl who is directing Salome, Jourdain Barton, has been with us since she was 15. To see her grow, be so creative, and make it so presentable and relevant, is just great.” She similarly glows when talking about puppeteer Ricki Vincent, whose marionette show, The Doctor is Out, is coming soon to Paper Wing. “He makes his own marionettes, carves them, gets so fired up, so driven by artistic desire!” The comedy recounts the final hours of gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson.
Working long hours for Paper Wing, McBride now makes herself take three days a week off, to tend the garden at her Gonzales home, to can foods and make jam, and to be a mom to her 11- and 14-year-olds. Still, she also needs to act. She tries to get on stage at least once a year, and prefers somebody else direct her. “You need to remember the fear, the excitement, the butteflies, that elation. If you detach, you don’t remember what it’s like, you can’t touch or taste or feel it from the actor’s point of view.”
And she is outraged by the gutting of the MPC Theatre Company’s budget and the closing down of Forest Theater in Carmel. “Losing that space has really unified us,” she says, speaking of the local theater community. She says it’s about priorities. “My company, small as it is, gets 20 percent of our ticket sales from outside of Monterey County. I’m drawing them in.” That means dollars for the county and the cities. “Art drives commerce,” has been her battle cry over the years. “The arts have saved failing neighborhoods. People spend money when they come to an art event. They make dinner reservations at the same time they reserve seats for our shows.” She says she has sent a huge amount of business to local merchants. “I don’t know how the president of MPC doesn’t see that.” It’s the same fight with the city of Carmel, she says. Keeping Forest Theater dark “is taking money away from your merchants,” she says. “It makes me angry.”