But there have been myriad other employment shifts during the Covid-19 crisis, including the Great Reprioritization, with people fortunate enough to be able seize this moment of disruption to simplify their circumstances, reducing commitments and eliminating commutes to improve work-life balance.
Lucy Mercer’s Throckmorton Theatre, a landmark arts institution in Mill Valley, is the beneficiary of one of those reprioritizations.
Lou Dockstader, who saved the much-loved Once Around arts and crafts shop from closure by buying it in 2016 and moving it three years later to the Mill Valley Lumber Yard, is now the Throckmorton’s managing producer.
“I’m thrilled to support the expansive artistic vision of Lucy and the rest of the team to keep the theater at the heart of the community,” Dockstader says.
She’ll do so with a twist.
Instead of raising money for the theater and figuring out ways to use those funds, “it’s deciding what we want to create and fundraising for those projects,” Dockstader says. “This theater is knee deep in creative souls and people and projects. My role is to kind of tease out of these wonderfully creative people and identify projects they want to do and then go raise the money for them to bring it to fruition. It’s also much more exciting for people who want to give.” That includes getting back to its core mission, specifically a brand new piece of musical theater featuring lots of local residents singing and dancing. “It’s going to be quite an extravaganza,” she says.
As with many arts organizations, Dockstader says there is a difference between how the Throckmorton functioned pre-Covid vs. today. “This place was operating at well over 100 percent before – it was a machine,” she says. “The shutdown has given us the opportunity to really think about operating more consciously and doing what they really want it to be here to do.”
That said, reinvigorating long-cherished programs like Tuesday Comedy Nights, Improv Classes, main stage shows, the free Noon Concerts series, the Chorus and the Noon Concert series, are equally vital.
The new role seems perfectly suited for Dockstader’s background and skill set. She grew up in Devon in southwest England, graduating from Oxford University before heading to the Bay Area in 1985 to visit her brother. While there, she interned at a video production company that Kentfield native, documentary filmmaker and her future husband Noel Dockstader ran with his brother. In 1991, the couple moved to the UK for 13 years, and she dove into a series of creative opportunities, including stints at the Young Vic theater in London, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Birmingham Rep and with Yehudi Menuhin and his Menuhin Festival Gstaad.
“Lou is a creative and innovative thinker who has already added tremendous value to our small group,” Mercer says. “She is a quiet force with the determination and skills to achieve whatever she desires. I am personally grateful for her wise voice as we continue to explore our ability to make a difference.”
For Dockstader, the timing of it all was crucial.
She had been winding down her many years of commuting to the peninsula for work at a number of gaming giants, including Ubisoft, Leapfrog, Play Studios and, most recently, serving as COO at Super Karma Games, for which she remains on the board of directors. “You can’t work in a theater and raise money and develop new projects and programs and do a decent job running a game company,” she says.
Dockstader also moved from Bolinas back to Mill Valley. “Not commuting anywhere and having a business in Mill Valley really made this the perfect time to make it happen,” she says. “It all feels more organic and holistic and connected. Things grow out of connections and that sort of collective consciousness. I do feel like I have earned this more holistic life.”
“They say if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person,” the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival board member says with a laugh. “I tend to burn the candle at both ends.” To that point, Dockstader was part of a group of local residents who heeded Governor Gavin Newsom’s call in 2020 for homemade mask makers, leveraging the thousands of yards of fabric she had at her shuttered store and in storage and leading a few dozen volunteers called the Masketeers to deliver more than 11,000 masks to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office.
Mercer and Dockstader say that while the seemingly endless closures of the pandemic left a big whole in the operating budget, they continue to be extremely grateful for the community’s support. “People dug deep into their pockets to support nonprofits and businesses all over town,” Dockstader says. “If you live in Mill Valley, you are very fortunate.”
Oh, and the DIY community hub of Once Around? It’s doing just fine, Dockstader says, with “a fabulous team” of people that run the business like clockwork. “And the Lumber Yard is such a great home for it,” she says.