By Dave Rogers

For The Record

To say Lynae Sanford, new managing director for Orange’s Lutcher Theater, is a perfect fit for the job would be putting it mildly.

“I believe God puts you where he wants you at the right time,” she said recently.

The Little Cypress-Mauriceville grad, who was promoted from marketing manager after April’s retirement of longtime theater boss Jim Clark, grew up with a love for theater.

She first got the bug as a youngster at North Orange Baptist Church, where her father, Lynn Ashcraft, was pastor for 32 years.

She picked up a pair of theater degrees at Lamar University and bounced between theater and marketing jobs – including a lengthy pink Cadillac-driving stint in beauty product sales for Mary Kay.

Then she became marketing manager for Lutcher Theater in 2009 and was promoted to marketing director for all the Stark Cultural Venues in 2015.

“It has seemed that all the things I’ve done in the past have taught me and molded me into this and made me ready for this position,” she said.

“I feel very fortunate that I get to do in my hometown.”

Husband Jerry Sanford teaches pre-nursing students at Lamar State College-Orange.

Their son Dyllon, 24, is married to a teacher, Rebekah, in Midland and is studying at Texas Tech to be a physician’s assistant. Daughter Rebecca, 20, is a junior at Texas A&M.

Sanford is in charge of a Southeast Texas treasure.

The 1,450-seat theater at 707 Main St. was opened in 1980 and, at six stories high, is the tallest building in downtown Orange.

Liberace was the first performer, in 1980.

She estimates it costs “close to $3 million” a year to operate. She explains that Lutcher Theater is one of four Stark Foundation venues, but operates as a separate non-profit.

“The Foundation pays for the building upkeep and salaries. Lutcher Theater Inc. is responsible for raising money for productions,” she said.

“Typically, our program budget is $1.3 million. We do that through sales and sponsorships. Part of my job is I lead the fundraising. I write grants, communicate with our patrons, work with sponsors. I’m responsible for the administrative stuff, too.

“I sign my name a lot.”

Lutcher Theater will stage 13 productions between Sept. 12 and April 21, with two of the shows offering both Friday and Saturday performances.

Most begin at 7:30 p.m.

Broadway megahits RENT (Oct. 24), Kinky Boots (Jan. 2) and Chicago (April 20-21) are on the schedule along with dancer-illusionists MOMIX (Sept. 12), Very Electric Christmas (Nov. 16), The Texas Tenors (Dec. 16) and Cinderalla (Jan. 19-20).

Also, A Night with Janis Joplin (Jan. 25), Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Feb. 9), On Golden Pond (March 9), Amazing Grace (March 21), and Rain, a Beatles tribute (April 5).

And an Oct. 22 performance of the Symphony at Shangri La is included.

Season packages for all 13 shows begin at $430 and other season-ticket packages are available for as few as four shows. Single tickets go on sale Aug. 11.

“Because of Foundation and community support, we are able to keep ticket prices affordable,” Sanford said.

“You can get a main floor seat for a Broadway who for $65 whereas in larger markets it would be $85 to $125. On Broadway, they’re $425 and up.”

Presentation also counts.

“We want the audience to come and have an amazing incredible experience,” Sanford said.

“We always want to make sure the production quality is the best it can be, plus from the time they enter the parking lot until the time they leave, we want our patrons to have an incredible experience.”

The Lutcher Theater is also home annually to eight “kids shows.”

“We’re proud of that series, too,” Sanford said. “It offers field trips for area schools. Most of the kids would never get to see them without the Foundation helping us underwrite them.”

The “Incredible Kids Events” schedule for 2017-18 includes MOMIX Opus Cactus (10 a.m. Sept. 12), How I Became A Pirate (9:30 and 11:30 a.m., Sept. 29), A Very Electric Christmas (9:30 and 11:30 a.m., Nov. 16), and Mr. Popper’s Penguins (9:30 and 11:30 a.m., Dec. 7).

Also, My Father’s Dragon (9:30 and 11:30 a.m., Jan. 10), Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny (9:30 and 11:30 a.m., Feb. 28), Go, Dog, Go! (9:30 and 11:30 a.m., April 16), and Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live on Stage (9:30 and 11:30 a.m., April 27).

Also in the spring, Lutcher plays host to dance recitals. It also hosts LSCO’s Distinguished Lecture Series

Making it all possible is a small operations staff.

Cris McLeod, operations manager, and Gina Carline, box office manager, head it up.

And don’t forget the volunteers.

“We could not do what we do without the Lutcher Theater Service Guild,” Sanford said.

The group helps with ushering, ticket taking and hospitality at all the shows. A membership drive for the Service Guild begins Aug. 15.

“We’re known throughout the theater world for our hospitality,” she said.

Sanford learned her job from Clark, who was the Lutcher Theater’s managing director from 1989 until April, 2017.

“Jim was very instrumental in establishing us as the biggest presenter of Broadway musicals between New Orleans and Houston,” she said.

“We pick the Broadway first. This year, we picked eight shows. And then we look at the calendar and find things to fill in.”

While growing up, Sanford said she did “a lot of Orange Community Players productions” and directed some for the Parks and Rec summer youth program.

After graduating from Lamar with a bachelors degree in communications and theater, Sanford went into radio advertising sales in Beaumont. She sold janitorial supplies in the region’s plants, then moved with her husband to the Houston area while he attended chiropractic college.

That’s when she hooked up with Mary Kay.

“For eight or nine years, that was my career,” she said.

All the time, she continued to work in theater, directing productions in church and community theater.

She taught school in Pasadena, then in Beaumont after moving back to Orange. She was an taught theater as an adjunct at Lamar-Beaumont while earning a masters in theater.

More Mary Kay. Back to Lamar as a teacher.

Then the Stark Foundation called.

“I grew up with Gina Carline and Cris McLeod,” Sanford said. “When they needed a marketing person, they called me.”