Bob Jones grad becomes new managing director of the Princess Theatre

By , The Decatur Daily

DECATUR – After Jen DiCarlo toured the historic Princess Theatre in downtown Decatur — after hearing about its storied history, about the Grammy Award winners who performed on its stage and its ties to the community — she felt a connection with the 105-year-old performing arts center.

“When I came home after the tour, I told my fiancée I felt something special about that place. I knew I would be connected to it, but I thought it would be as a volunteer,” the 39-year-old DiCarlo said.

Then DiCarlo learned Mindy Brubaker, the managing director, was leaving the Princess.

“When Mindy called me and asked if I was interested in putting my name in the hat, I said, ‘Sure, I’ll put my name in the hat, but I don’t think it is going to get pulled,’” DiCarlo said. “But it did and I am so excited to be part of Decatur in this capacity.”

As managing director, a position she stepped into Nov. 29, DiCarlo oversees the day-to-day operations of the Princess from the rentals to fundraising to the box office.

“I even work the concession stand,” DiCarlo said.

Working opposite DiCarlo is Mary McDonald, the Princess Theatre’s programming director and visionary behind the center’s singer-songwriter nights, which debuted in 2017.

“Mary books all of the acts. She has done an amazing job. All you have to do is look at the upcoming schedule,” DiCarlo said.

That schedule includes comedian Ellen Skrmetti on Thursday, alternative-country band Sarah Shook & The Disarmers on Friday, musician Eric Johnanson on Saturday and The Cleverlys on Feb. 2.

Other events include two-time Grammy winner Travis Tritt on March 8, Grammy winner Suzy Bogguss on March 9, 15-time Grammy winner Ricky Skaggs and the Kentucky Thunder on March 17, Mexican-American rock band Los Lobos on March 21, comedian James Gregory on April 7 and Grammy-winning blues musician Cedric Burnside on May 2.

“Mary is a genius. She knows exactly how to get the right folks in here. I’m excited to hear some new music, see some new shows and be part of the arts in Decatur,” DiCarlo said.

The Princess Theatre’s world of music and stage productions represents a different arena for DiCarlo, who grew up exploring the visual arts.

“As a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. I was not very good though. I couldn’t really draw, but I loved it. In high school, I really learned about realism and portraits. You saw an apple and learned how to draw an apple,” said DiCarlo, who graduated from Bob Jones and earned a degree in visual arts from Auburn University.

In 2014, DiCarlo was exposed to nonprofits when Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center in Huntsville hired her as outreach director.

There she ran the visual arts program and adult day program for individuals with special needs.

“I don’t think I realized just how important the arts were until I got into that line of work,” DiCarlo said. “Whenever you can express yourself through the arts, whether that be painting or singing or theater, it allows for so much growth and confidence.”

After several years at Merrimack, DiCarlo worked in commercial real estate, where she created budgets and wrote contracts.

“When I interviewed for the Princess position, I was asked if I had ever written a budget. You don’t even know why your path is your path at times and then it all works out,” DiCarlo said.

DiCarlo’s connection with the Princess began when she got engaged and told her fiancée, a Decatur resident, she wanted to get involved with the community.

“A good friend of ours asked if I wanted to help out with fundraising at the Princess. That’s when I got a tour of the place and met Mindy and Mary,” DiCarlo said.

DiCarlo’s experience with Merrimack and administrative work caught the attention of the Princess’ board of directors.

“The managing director of the Princess has to have their hat into a lot of things — the arts, finances and more. Jen had experience in all these things,” Mark Moody, chair of the board, said. “Jen has only been here for a couple of months, but she has fallen in seamlessly.”

As managing director, DiCarlo hopes to expand the Princess’ reach and deepen the connection to the community.

Recently the theater served as host for a community discussion organized by Standing in Power, and held events for Día de Los Muertos and Festival of the Cranes. The theater will also partner with the Carnegie Visual Arts Center to hold events for Carnegie Carnival.

“The goal is to get as many different types of people in the doors as possible to see what a special place it is,” DiCarlo said.

“There’s such a rich history here. I want to continue to make the Princess a place of inclusion and a space for everyone to come and enjoy the arts.”

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