Alumni Profiles is an ongoing series highlighting successful graduates who, with a SUNY education, achieved interesting and influential careers.
Erin Coon is a community member, leader, and advocate. She was recently named the Executive Director of the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls, NY–the same city that one of her alma maters, SUNY Adirondack, is located.
Ms. Coon attended SUNY New Paltz to earn her Bachelor’s degree following her attendance at SUNY Adirondack in high school, then returned to the North Country to refresh her business skills at SUNY Adirondack more recently. For two years before being named the Executive Director, Ms. Coon was the theater’s operations manager after completing an internship with Adirondack Theatre Festival, a group that the theater continues to host.
The Charles R. Wood Theater is a 30,000 square-foot community facility with a theater, rehearsal hall, and reception area that hosts year-round art events. It is this year celebrating 10 years in operation. Learn more about the Charles R. Wood Theater, including the history and schedule of events at their website.
You have spent your entire life in the North Country at the foothills of the Adirondacks. What do you find so special about that part of New York State?
We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world! I haven’t traveled extensively (yet) but from what I have seen of the United States and abroad, Upstate New York is the most beautiful year-round. We are so lucky. It’s funny but before I left for school, I had no idea that other places weren’t full of mountains and lakes. Once you leave, you miss the scenery. It’s not just the scenery though – it’s the people too. There’s a culture here that’s unique and diverse. We have sports enthusiasts, country folks, hipsters, social elite, average joes, bikers, artists – you name it. Yet everyone gets along somehow. We’re open and accepting of one another. In the end, that’s the type of place that anyone would want to be because it’s supportive and comfortable.
What did you focus your studies on while at SUNY Adirondack?
I first enrolled in SUNY Adirondack when it was ACC. I was 16 years old and an early admission student still in high school. I spent half my day at Queensbury High and the rest at SUNY Adirondack. Then after I graduated from high school in 2000, I decided to stay at the college and earn my Associate’s in Liberal Arts. Most of the electives I chose were in theater arts. I also focused on writing, speech and music. In 2008 I returned to SUNY Adirondack for a semester as an adult to take some business courses. Last year I returned again as an instructor teaching Museum Studies.
You were recently named Executive Director of the Charles R. Wood Theater. Can you describe the theater and your duties, and possibly how your education at SUNY Adirondack helped you prepare?
The Charles R. Wood Theater has a very small staff – there are only two administrative positions. As Executive Director, I am responsible for everything that happens in the building. I report to an 18 person board of directors and all staff report to me. My typical day consists of meetings with all sorts of people from those interested in renting the theater, to potential donors or program sponsors, other nonprofits that the Wood might collaborate with, vendors, media personalities, downtown businesses, city officials or Wood Theater committees. My office is right in the front of the theater, so people tend to stop in just to say hi. When I’m not in meetings, I am probably reading and/or creating financial reports, writing contracts, working on grants, researching money-saving technology or trying to develop new programming, fundraising and marketing plans. A big part of the job is supporting other local businesses and nonprofits so I try to make it to events and fundraisers that they hold when I’m not in the office. Not everything I do is glamorous though. I spend a fair amount of time scrubbing toilets, moving furniture, troubleshooting broken equipment or trying to fix the air conditioning.
If SUNY Adirondack wasn’t a part of my life, I would not be where I am today. When I returned to the area after earning my Bachelors at SUNY New Paltz, I spoke with Ruth Lieberman, head of the theater program at SUNY Adirondack, and she worked with me to redirect my educational and career objectives. She advised me to re-enroll at SUNY Adirondack for a semester before heading into my Masters work. That semester was so beneficial, giving the business prep I needed to be successful in my Masters work at Indiana University. Thanks to Ruth and the courses I took at SUNY Adirondack, I was able to focus my talents, build my confidence and accomplish my goals. Her guidance and patience with me were the most valuable part of my educational experience. I know that, even now, as I work toward a PhD and run a nonprofit, she is still there for me.
To where do you see yourself driving the future of the theater?
The theater is just about to turn 10 years old. It has come so, so far in it’s first decade. From a renovated Woolworth’s store to a year-round performing arts center with over 300 uses per year! That’s really outstanding. I see myself as a steward of the theater. Before I took the job, I asked the board where they see the theater in 20 years. I probably won’t be here then but I need to know what the long-term goals are so I know where I fit into the theater’s growth. I want to make sure that what I do sets the theater up for future success. While I’m at the helm, I plan to build on the success the theater has had by continuing to book groups that appeal to the Wood Theater’s loyal supporters. I also want to expand that demographic by programming for families and young adults. The Wood Theater has done a marvelous job programming for its core – adults 45 and older. During my time here, I want to see it become just as effective at programming for the rest of the population. Part of that is expanding existing programs like the Student Matinee series and Rising Stars. The rest is programming different types of acts that tend to appeal to families and young adults and, most importantly, fit into their budgets.
What advice do you have to share with SUNY students?
College is a really awesome time in your life. Make sure you make the time to have fun outside of class. Always remember that when you’re completely consumed by some crazy assignment and you’re cursing your professors for thinking theirs is the only course you have to take, it will all be over before you know it. Just push through. Don’t quit because you really can do it.
Another huge tip is to make use of the resources you have with the college. If you plan on continuing your studies beyond SUNY, take the time to learn how to use the library, get to know your professors so you get good recommendations and can rely on them in the future. Make sure you are really learning how to write and study because you will need to do a lot more of it. Writing, especially, is a skill that you will use throughout life, so don’t blow it off. A little extra effort while you’re at SUNY will really pay off through the rest of your life.
Maxwell is the Coordinator of Digital Engagement for The State University of New York.