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Sharon Maroney shines whatever she does
Around 6 p.m. on a recent Thursday, Sharon Maroney was at work in her office at Broadway Rose Theatre Company in Tigard when her husband Dan Murphy popped his head in the door to say he was leaving.
Murphy had to change into a suit and tie and get ready to greet audience members in the lobby of the Deb Fennell Auditorium before the curtain rose on "The Addams Family" at 7:30 p.m. But Maroney stayed behind at the New Stage/administrative headquarters because she had a 6:30 p.m. rehearsal for the upcoming "Gypsy," in which she plays Mama Rose. (Murphy plays the role of Herbie in the show.)
Maroney and Murphy co-founded Broadway Rose 27 years ago, and she is the producing artistic director while he is managing director. The calendar at the back of the summer musicals program includes their wedding photo on Aug. 8, when they will celebrate their 30th anniversary.
"Thirty years – that blows my mind," Maroney said.
The professional theater company – and the couple's roles – have evolved over the decades, although one constant is that both continue to occasionally direct and act in some of the six annual productions.
Maroney described her job as doing the "administrative tango," noting that "business people think artists are not business people."
While her job is varied, "casting is the hardest thing I do," Maroney said. "That happens in March, and that is the toughest month for me. But the thing I get the most joy out of is helping artists to use their gifts to the fullest degree. I like creating opportunities for artists to grow.
"Earlier in the year I hire directors and designers. This time of year is easy unless I'm in a show like now. After March, the next hardest time is October and November when I'm doing the budget. We are on a calendar year, and I've been doing this for 26 years.
"The funding changes every year, and you can't count on foundations to do the same thing year after year. In June and July I work on the next year's shows. Now I'm thinking about 2018."
But she has to squeeze in rehearsal time too and has spent the past six months learning the music and practicing the songs for the role of Rose. "I've disciplined myself," she said.
Maroney credits Murphy for her taking on the role. "It was Danny's idea," she said. "He said, 'We should do "Gypsy," and you should be Mama Rose.' I don't put myself in some roles, although I like to sing and used to do a lot of musical revues.
"I'm very grateful for my life – running this theater, living half a mile away so it is just a hop, skip and jump to get here, and the kids are raised. I'm in a different place – we are not struggling like we were in the beginning – we're on the other side of the mountain."
This gives Maroney time to enjoy appearing in shows like "Gypsy" in one of the most sought-after roles on the stage. "Portland actresses called me and said they assumed I was taking the role but if not, they were interested," she said.
"Picking a (show) is one of the hardest things we do – and the casting. I want every show to be great and pay our bills. We've had so much good fortune and the right people showing up at the right time."
When Maroney and Murphy met in a summer stock production in Pennsylvania, it was kismet. They both came from huge families and share the same birth order – Maroney is the seventh of nine, and Murphy is the seventh of 11.
"We all had to take piano lessons, and I complained so my mom started me in singing lessons," said Maroney, who was born in Milwaukee. "Also dancing, because I nagged and nagged and nagged. I went to an all-girls high school and was in community theater and high school shows, and I used to audition for female roles in the all-boys high school's productions."
When the time came to go to college, "I didn't know what I was doing, so I majored in music therapy," Maroney said. "I used to work with kids with disabilities, and my dad said to me, 'Why make one person happy when you can make everyone happy?'"
At Marquette University in Milwaukee, which did not offer a drama major, Maroney majored in speech, took voice lessons and appeared in plays. After earning her bachelor of arts degree in speech, Maroney's parents wanted to give her luggage, and she asked for cash instead. "My dad said, 'It looks like you're not going anywhere anyway.'"
Maroney started directing high school shows and worked in a savings and loan before moving to Omaha to be with her medical student boyfriend; there she worked in dinner theater and was a bartender. Over the next several years she took stage jobs in such diverse places as Alabama and Maine.
"I traveled around, but Omaha was my base," she said. "I did an audition in Washington, D.C., and was hired to do a show in Pennsylvania. Basically, after that I never went back."
Prather Productions had five theaters in Pennsylvania, and it was there at a theater in Shamokin that she met Murphy. "I was the narrator in 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,' and he was one of the brothers," she said. "The theater company offered great training but terrible money, but you could eat for free. That is how you learn your craft – doing it in front of a live audience."
As the summer wound down, Murphy was going back to New York, and two friends needed a roommate for a rental house there so Maroney went with them. "Danny and I started with a friendship," she said.
One of their mutual friends was Matthew Ryan, who grew up in Tigard and would later convince Maroney and Murphy to start a theater there but in the meantime, "I was in a new relationship with Danny," Maroney said. "I learned to wait tables. I was a terrible waitress but a good cocktail waitress."
Maroney and Murphy got married after three years, and Murphy continued working as an actor and a waiter, while Maroney got "a great bartending job."
After they had their daughter Megan, Maroney worked part-time job as a music teacher at a school in South Bronx. "That was where I learned I'm not a teacher, but I'm a good entertainer, performer and director," she said.
Murphy traveled out of town a lot to perform in shows, and the couple was looking to find something to do together when their friend Ryan said, 'Let's go to Oregon and start a theater.'"
The three of them incorporated Broadway Rose Theatre Company in 1992 and came out to Oregon that first summer to put on shows at the Deb Fennell. They moved back to New York for one more winter, and by then Maroney was pregnant with Molly.
"In New York a child was killed by random gunfire near where we lived, and the schools were not good," Maroney said. "We wanted to be together as a family. We said, 'Let's go back to Oregon and give that theater a shot.'"
They initially lived in Ryan's parents' home on Bull Mountain and ran the box office out of the garage as they were figuring out the business. "Danny was so busy waiting tables to support us that running the business fell to me," Maroney said. "I found that running a business can be as creative as being in a show."
A godsend for Maroney was discovering a program called Technical Assistance for Community Services, "where they taught business development, grant writing, getting corporate sponsors, budgeting and more," she said. "I like being a problem-solver, and we eventually went from all volunteers to a paid staff.
"It was really hard, but we also had some good fortune. We could use the Deb Fennell and ran the business out of our house. We had no overhead for years. Later, Harvey Platt of Platt Electric let us use part of his office for $200 a month – he believed in us.
"Thank God the community has embraced us and supported us. I am looking forward to the next chapter and Broadway Rose's second act."
According to the Broadway Rose website, the theater company has earned national recognition for its commitment to artistic excellence and new work development. Working to enrich the region's cultural life and increase opportunities for Oregonians to participate in the arts, the company presents a variety of mainstage productions throughout the year as well as children's summer musicals, educational camps for children and teens, and a technical internship program for developing theatre professionals.
Average annual attendance at Broadway Rose exceeds 45,000 visits a year. Broadway Rose is a 501(c)3 nonprofit committed to keeping live theatre affordable and making its productions accessible to all members of the community. It employs more than 250 full-, part-time and seasonal staff; artists, technicians and educators, with additional support from over 250 volunteers annually.