A native of New York, Ricki Levine made her way to West Michigan via Los Angeles first. She fell in love with the area after friends in California moved to Saugatuck and invited her to visit.
“I came to visit on one sunny weekend in February,” she said, adding that Lake Michigan was part of the draw. “I always said I needed to live by the ocean. I said, ‘That will do,’ although it was frozen over.”
Most recently, Levine made her way to Muskegon to serve as Frauenthal Center’s managing director after working at arts organizations in Saugatuck and Grand Rapids. Her duties include everything from staffing to policies and procedures to the entertainment schedule.
“I’m in charge of the entire center — what we’re doing, how we rent it out, and bringing in specific programming,” she said.
The center has also rebranded itself, shortening the name from Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts; unveiling a new logo, mission and vision statement; and launching a new website.
Levine’s hiring in early August accompanied a reorganization of the internal management structure. The Community Foundation for Muskegon County is the umbrella organization that owns and helps support the center, and staff used to report to the vice president of finance.
The goal is for Frauenthal Center to have a separate identity and operate in a more autonomous way, Levine said.
Like many, Levine had never been to Muskegon before interviewing for the job. Once she saw the spring performance of Muskegon Civic Theatre’s “Into the Woods,” she realized what a historic gem is hidden on the corner of Western Avenue and Third Street.
“I got the opportunity to see the space in use and I was smitten,” she said. “I’m really excited. It is such a historic treasure for this part of Michigan. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.”
Levine grew up in Westchester County, N.Y. and studied acting at George Washington University, then returned to Manhattan to try acting before moving into sales and marketing.
“It’s very eclectic, my career,” she said. “I understand what’s going on behind the scenes and artistically. I also understand the business side of things.”
From there, she lived in Los Angeles for 11 years and worked for some of the big studios, such as Disney and Paramount, in marketing and home entertainment. Levine then realized she was ready for a change after that visit to Saugatuck in the winter of 2004.
“I called him (my husband) and he thought I was out of my mind,” she said. “We didn’t know West Michigan at all. I didn’t know the beauty and uniqueness of this side of the state.”
Besides the scenic dunes and Lake Michigan, it was important that the area had a vibrant performing arts and cultural arts scene, Levine said.
In June 2005, Levine packed her car and drove cross-country to join Saugatuck’s Mason Street Warehouse as managing director. She then worked six years as the development director at St. Cecilia Music Center and said she wasn’t actively looking to change jobs.
“It was just a huge opportunity,” she said. “There are a lot of untapped resources.”
Frauenthal Center has anchor groups like Muskegon Civic Theatre and West Michigan Symphony and co-presents concerts, family entertainment and community events. Larger traveling productions pay to rent the theater and are responsible for their own promotion.
Levine hopes to increase both attendance and facility use, while also building on the variety of offerings for the community. One goal is to form an artistic committee of community members and people in the arts to offer input on the types of shows and programming they want to see.
Another challenge is marketing and spreading the word out in the community.
While many people have heard of the Frauenthal Theater, an ornate 1,700-seat theater that opened as the Michigan Theater in 1930, the Frauenthal Center includes a variety of venue and facility rentals for public and private events.
“We have weddings; we have meetings; we have rentable office space,” she said. “We just want to fill it as much as possible.”
The adjoining Hilt Building houses the 169-seat Beardsley Theater, art gallery space, dressing rooms, reception areas, meeting rooms, and rehearsal spaces. Levine has hired a gallery manager to help plan, coordinate and install exhibits. The gallery is open and free to visit during business hours and performances. Levine hopes people will stop in before or after they visit Muskegon Museum of Art or attend a special event downtown.
“We want to make the gallery a destination,” Levine said.
West Michigan Symphony’s Pops “Classical Christmas,” Dec. 16
“The Nutcracker” with West Michigan Youth Ballet, Dec. 18
Free Family Movie Day, Dec. 27
New Year’s Eve R&B Fest, Dec. 31
Calvin College January Lecture Series, Jan. 4-6, 9-13, 16-20, 23-24
Alley Door Club, Jan. 13 & 27
WMS’s Masterworks “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,” Jan. 13
Muskegon Civic Theatre Blackbox “The Drawer Boy,” Jan. 20-22 & 26-28