101 Stories: Kim Kern & Roderick Justice

By The Children's Theatre

Celebrate TCT’s 101st season as it comes to a close as we applaud and appreciate those who contributed to the organization’s magic throughout our century-long journey.  During 10 weeks of recognition, we honor individuals who have been instrumental in the success of TCT and who have not only helped TCT grow in mission but also thrive, thanks to their passion.  It is these people and their moments in our history that shaped TCT to become what it is today. We encourage you to consider giving a gift in their honor to ensure the sustainability of TCT’s mission for the next 100+ years. 

Kim Kern is a native Cincinnatian and graduate of Cincinnati Country Day School (’87). Kim Left Cincinnati to attend Vanderbilt University (“91), where she received a bachelor of science in education studies and human development, and then quickly returned to Cincinnati, which she and her family continue to call home.  Kim assumed the role of Managing Director of The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati in September 2013, and then the combined role of Managing Director & CEO in 2015.  Kim’s expertise spans nonprofit management, fundraising, strategic planning, market media development, public relations, special events, grant acquisition, and major gift acquisition.  Before joining TCT, Kim worked as President of the Ohio Valley Chapter of the National MS Society, Director of Major Gifts for National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and prior to that, she was Director of Market Development for Local 12 WKRC-TV and Clear Channel Broadcasting.  She served as the Executive Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and spent time operating her own consulting company, advising both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations in the areas of special events, board building, marketing, corporate sponsorship, public relations, fundraising, and promotions.  

Roderick is a member of The Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and is celebrating his 15th season with The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati.  Recently recognized as one of The Cincinnati Business Courier’s Forty Under 40 in 2020 and Arts Educator of the Decade by Broadwayworld.com, his work is driven by a passion for storytelling, the impact arts have in childhood development, and the power live theatre brings to promote empathy. He is an award-winning director, choreographer, actor, costume designer, playwright, adjudicator, and mentor to hundreds of young performers. Originally from eastern Kentucky, he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre from Northern Kentucky University.  Since becoming Producing Artistic Director in 2015, he has produced and commissioned more than a dozen new musicals, plays, and world-premiere adaptations.  Outside of TCT, Roderick shares his passion as a guest artist, director, and choreographer for other organizations, including many in the region, such as his alma mater, Northern Kentucky University’s School of the Arts (SOTA), the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), Commonwealth Theatre Company, The Carnegie, Cincinnati Landmark Productions, and The Lincoln Amphitheater Company, in Lincoln City, Indiana.   

Kim Kern and Roderick Justice on the Showtime Stage on Red Bank Road prior to completed construction

Recently we met with Kim and Roderick and learned how their combined leadership and communications styles drive new opportunities and success at TCT. 

What was life at TCT like before the move to the Red Bank Facility? 

KK – Wow, life before Red Bank, I think I have repressed a lot of that. We were renting about 10,000 sq. ft of space around the corner from where we are now.  When I think back, I remember crowded spaces, Roderick hair styling wigs under the stairs because that was the only place to do it,  auditions with people sitting outside on walls and in the grass because there was not enough room inside to house them and only 55 kids per year total taking classes because that was all that could fit. 

RJ – Oh and the costume shop and storage. It was so full it became a hazard. 

KK – And when in rehearsal, we had to open the doors to costume storage so the cast could go into “the wings” during the rehearsal, which caused some challenges and extra-long props hitting lights due to the low ceiling height. The shed where puppets and costumes were stored.  It was a completely different world. 

RJ – You are reminding me now of the previous building, even before the last location. We were on the second floor of an office building. When we would tap dance, the whole floor would vibrate. There was a skylight in the center of the room. That is where we could do any kind of major choreography or a lift, so everything was usually blocked center stage.  What we can do at Red Bank has catapulted us beyond anything we could have imagined before. 

After our move into the Red Bank location, we were a bit in culture shock and had to break the habit of thinking, “we can’t do this because this is happening at the same time.”  Now we can rehearse 3 shows simultaneously, whether on Tour, in the Academy or on Mainstage. 

Kim Kern and Roderick Justice on the Showtime Stage on Red Bank Road after construction

What was involved in making the Red Bank facility a possibility? 

KK – it was a multi-year process that for me started not long after I joined TCT in 2013, and it had long been a dream of those who came before us to find a place we could call home.  

So many things happened to make Red Bank possible.  Having Pete Horton (who at the time worked for Miller-Valentine) on our board and who helped us by using their costar system for geomapping.  This helped us find the ideal quadrants for our location using our data, including where our patrons, our academy folks, schools, and where families with children were all located.  Angela Powell Walker (former Artistic Director) and I drove around with Pete and Jack Rouse looking for spaces.  Pete found the Red Bank facility before it even went on the market, allowing us to give it early consideration.  Pete was so instrumental in that as well as managing construction that was on time and under budget.  For a year, our group met weekly to go through all the necessary pieces involved in building construction and renovation; it was quite an undertaking.  A gift from the Corbett Foundation was incredibly exciting and providential. I still remember the meeting with Craig Hurwitz, our board chair, and fellow board members as we went through an entire meeting talking about the pros and cons of this project and undertaking.  After we voted to proceed, Craig mentioned the major gift from the Corbett Foundation, and everyone shouted, why didn’t you lead with that!  

RJ – That was actually my first board meeting as interim co-artistic director.  I was truly jumping into the new position headfirst with Red Bank. But it was the perfect time to start. My first day after being promoted was a meeting to start discussing the interior of the building.  I loved every step of the rebranding process and in helping design a space where families in our community can experience so much joy and wonder. I’m proud of the space and the energy that can be felt throughout the building. 

KK – You did such a good job of designing the building and the aesthetics as a whole. You were so engaged in that process, even down to the details of picking names for each of the studios, which I love, and I still think To Be and Not To Be are the best names for drama studios ever.  This special thought, vision, and detailed care is something that people really notice and was so amazing.  

RJ – Thank you. But you’re the amazing one!   

At the 2016 Family Gala

You seem like such a great team, what are some of the ingredients of your work success together? 

KK – I tell people all the time that Roderick is a genius, and I am thankful for him every day.  But also, I think we complement each other so well.  Roderick understands the business side, not just the artistic side, and is cognizant of budget constraints. I am obviously on the administrative side of the organization and focus on things like budget and development, but I understand the need for artistic integrity and the need to spend money to make money.  I think that balance, where it’s not just an administrative professional and an artistic professional coming together and trying to make our worlds blend, we each are very cognizant of the other’s world and our understanding of it, and I think that is why it works so well.  

RJ- I echo every syllable of what Kim has said. There is an incredible amount of respect and trust that happens when you are working closely with someone.  We are aligned in so many ways. We think at the same pace for the organization.  I’m thinking of artistic integrity at the same level she’s thinking of artistic integrity, and I’m thinking fiscal responsibility on the same level as she is thinking fiscal responsibility. When these aspects intersect and don’t always align, we have to question what is the best path forward. This is where we trust each other’s judgment and why we work so well together.  We build off but also challenge each other’s ideas. And it’s always from a place of respect and trust. I believe those are the ingredients that make us rise.   I tell people all the time that this organization could not do anything it does today without Kim.  If we are the human body, Kim is the brain. 

KK – And not to mention that I just love Roderick as a person otherwise I would not have let him marry me. 

RJ – And for the record, I did not marry her like… I put a ring on it; I officiated the marriage between her and her husband. 

At STAR NKU

This year has been quite a strain on theatres and yet you managed to stay open. How did you do it? 

RJ – First of all.  I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. I thought this was going to pass quickly. But a few weeks in, it was clear this was more serious than we ever imagined.  

In 4 days, we had to change our entire trajectory for the year: a different budget, different shows, a different model, and different jobs for everyone so we wouldn’t lose our tribe of people.  That happened quickly, and I can’t even tell you how it happened because it moved so fast. But that goes back to trust and respect, where we both know we had to keep both artistic integrity and fiscal responsibility in balance.  

KK – Also, it was a really clear example of both of our strengths and talents. Roderick shifted gears and came up with an entirely reimagined season based upon streaming rights or things we owned. And me making decisions like saying to Development I think we need to reach out to those who are most generous in our community and let them know we need their help.  We are working together and capitalizing on things that allow us to continue supporting our families and serving our mission. 

What’s next on the horizon?  

We are dreaming again with pen and pencil in hand and very excited about going back to our roots and finding a restored home for our MainStage theatre division.  Committees are meeting again, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds and know that the next 101 years will bring new opportunities, new challenges, and great progress for The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati! 

Would you honor Kim Kern and Roderick Justice with a gift to recognize the impact made on TCT?