Alum spotlight: Mary Anne Moorman, BFA ’69, Dramatic Art and Speech
Mary Anne’s career path has been varied, to say the least. Over the years she has been a director, machinist, management consultant and journalist. She’s now a storyteller extraordinaire by the name Auntmama—using storytelling to build community.
Mary Anne was born in the foothills of Appalachia in Southwest Virginia. Growing up, she wanted to be a director after she saw Tea & Sympathy at the Roanoke community theater Showtimers at the age of 13. She remembers thinking, “I want to do that, but I don’t want to be up there.” The sentiment rings ironic, considering that she now finds herself under the spotlight as Auntmama.
During her college career at VCU, “I got to direct—one acts, an original play and The Knack.” This turned out to be more than she got to do in grad school at Yale, where Mary Anne says “they didn’t want women at Yale for directing or in tech.” She was not deterred and directed many shows at venues including back at Showtimers in Roanoke, Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and Wedgewood Dinner Theatre, a well known theatre outside of Williamsburg in the 60’s and 70’s.
Mary Anne decided to do more writing, and she worked as a journalist for Landmark News Service and Knight Newspaper Service. She and fellow VCU grad Ginger Montague (BFA ’69) traveled cross country looking for a place to settle. They ended up in Seattle, where she still lives today and has built quite a legacy. (literally—Mary Anne received a “2019 Seattle Living Legacy” award for her contributions in Seattle arts and culture.) “Ginger and I started the Seattle Theatre Group to produce original shows, especially agitprop theatre, which is where I got involved with labor.”
A new career opened up as she spent four years on a factory floor as a machinist and became the first woman shop steward at Kenworth Trucks. One of her job duties was training, which led to her longest gig running the production company Gamma Vision Inc, which started producing message orientated materials for women in trade. Eventually the company produced more than 200 training videos for companies like Nike, Levi, Nordstrom and Westin Hotels.
Mary Anne looks back, “I’ve always been directing and writing, which ultimately led me back to storytelling. I wanted so badly to get out of Southwest Virginia, but I’ve written so many stories about the foothills of Appalachia. I tied that to my other love around social justice issues and that became StoryTable. Being pedantic wasn’t the way to get people to change their minds, but telling a story might change their heart.”
Auntmama’s StoryTable started as a monthly show for Starbucks, then turned into a tour where she was storyteller, emcee and deejay. She considers the change from director to stage presence, “At a time in life when it is NOT when you go on camera and on stage, I now get to be on the receiving end of everything I did to people when I was directing.” Mary Anne explains about her stage name, “The kids in my life call me Auntmama, and it stuck.”
Currently, Mary Anne is remodeling a barn and putting a stage in for multi-use live or streaming events. This make-it-work spirit came from her days at VCU. She remembers, “I was directing a show at Shafer and wanted a strobe effect. We couldn’t afford one, so we took the blades off a fan, put cardboard on it and a spotlight behind it. Richard Newdick was a great advisor on figuring out a way to do it.”
Compiled by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the November 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter