In the midst of a national search for a new executive director, Da Camera realized the perfect candidate was already right in front of them. Toni Capra – trained singer, Theater District veteran, and governance guru, was tapped to take the role and guide the organization through a time of transition.
How did you begin your career and what led to your involvement in the arts?
I actually have a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. My very first job out of college I worked for Austin Lyric Opera. I enjoyed performing but I liked being behind the scenes making sure the performance could happen. I always wanted to live in New York and found an excellent program at The New School and went for an MBA in nonprofit management. I did my graduate project with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, then worked for the U.S. Tennis Foundation, and finally PBS before moving back to Houston and taking a job at Houston Grand Opera.
How did you find your way back to the Theater District after a few years away?
I had started doing some consulting work while still managing the executive office at Houston Grand Opera and the time was right to pursue consulting work on a full-time basis. I became a certified governance trainer for BoardSource, the national nonprofit governance association, and built a great network. I did that from 2015 to January of this year and then Sarah Rothenberg at Da Camera called me. We have known each other for several years and she told me her general manager just left and she wanted to take a step back from her dual role as artistic and general director in order to focus on the artistic vision of the organization. I met with the executive committee and they brought me in on an interim basis to finish out the fiscal year and make some recommendations on structure going forward.
Could you have imagined when they brought you in that you’d be offered the position of Executive Director?
I came in as interim director of administration. The board leadership already knew they wanted to divide the artistic and executive roles into a bifurcated structure. Plans were to conduct a national search to fill the position, but they were pleased with my work and eventually asked if I would be interested. I said of course, and they offered me the job!
What are you most excited to do in your new role?
I’m a big fan of structure and procedure. Some people hear that and think it will constrict them in some way, but in reality structure actually provides the freedom to accomplish so much more. As an organization that has grown significantly over the last few years, I believe Da Camera will benefit from what I can implement in this area. I am also part of a team of really lovely people, so it is a lot of fun to spend my days with all of them.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I think probably the most exciting accomplishment was when I was at PBS. It is such an absurd story! The Police – the band with Sting – approached us to do a special concert fundraiser at Madison Square Garden to benefit our initiative, Public Television Rocks! I was in the legal department when one of my colleagues was put in charge of the event. He tapped me and another colleague to manage the project and basically three of us sold out Madison Square Garden! I still have no idea how we did it but it was amazing and we raised over $3 million. The B-52s opened. I can still vividly remember that night and what a thrill ride it was.
Best career advice you ever received?
It’s not always enough to be right. I keep that in my mind now as I’m leading people and an organization. Maybe I have the right reasons in mind when I make a decision, but I have to always consider how my decisions will impact my staff personally or professionally.
What do you do to unwind?
I have two rescue dogs, Finley and Phoebe, who are always a great source of fun for me. I’m also a huge sports fan. My dad I currently have a season ticket package to the Dynamo and go to Astros games together. We are loyal supporters of University of Houston athletics too – Go Coogs! With six nephews, I spend a lot of time at hockey rinks and the Little League field supporting all of them as well!
What’s your favorite movie?
That’s so hard. I love movies. Waiting for Guffman is hard to top. Flirting with Disaster is also excellent. The Sound of Music and Moulin Rouge are also great. I have a lot of favorites.