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Meet Momma Lesser: Director of The Colorado Academy of the Arts

Today we have a special guest on Livlyhood, my mom! If you know Momma Lesser, you’ve been privileged to know one of the smartest, kindest, opinionated and most determined people to ever walk the planet. She is my hero; not only because of the successful business she ran for over thirty years, but because she finds talent in everyone she meets.

Below my mom outlines why she started The Colorado Academy of the Arts (CAA) in the 1980s and ran it for over thirty years. She is too humble to highlight how truly amazing CAA really was- it was a place where everyone could find a part and everyone belonged, something so unique and hard to find in the arts. I have always looked up to my mom (even though I’m 8 inches taller than her!) and I’m so excited to share her with you today.

Working with an aCapella group, before Pitch Perfect made it cool! 

Tell us a bit about yourself/your career

It’s hard to call something a career when you were doing something you loved! My love of performing and telling stories through music theater started early when I coerced neighborhood children to be in a “show” in the backyard. Piano became the tool to get more involved in the performance experience, but drama was the wick that lit the flame!  In my twenties I established a music theater after school program that continued for over 3 decades.

I loved teaching music in a private school, but it was directing musicals that fed my desire to tell a story through music. Plus, as the oldest of 7 children I found directing to be a natural progression of bossiness. Directing extended to acting as a travel tour guide with Webb Tours. What could be more fun than being on a mic expounding history, stories and spiritual insights to a captive audience while seeing the world? It all comes down to framing the story in all my jobs!

Getting little performers ready for a parade (and she’s pregnant with me!) 

How does your community of women you surround yourself with support you?

The women who worked in my personal business had a total of 17 children. We were all SAH moms who had a great need to express ourselves. We also had children who were extraordinarily talented in the arts and we were tired of dragging our kids to one studio for dance, another for voice, and another for acting. Why couldn’t it all be done in one place?  That is how the Colorado Academy of the Arts was born. This is in the early 80’s when musicals were only performed in community theaters or with professional actors. The schools were not using musicals as a format for teaching. It was at the time a unique approach, it gave us an outlet to express ourselves which I feel SAM need.

My husband (who is a man, but I couldn’t leave him out haha) supported me in all my career adventures.  He looked the other way in tough years when there wasn’t a salary. He covered bills I couldn’t pay, and encouraged me to do what I loved. He became a Mr. Mom as I travelled extensively as a tour guide several times a year.

With a piano student at a recital 

How many students have you taught over your lifetime? (she really didn’t want to answer this, but I made her) 

The enrollment at The Colorado Academy of the Arts varied between 80-200 students a year, but then if you count Rivendell (the school where I taught music for twelve years and my piano students) that’d be another 170… with piano students, elementary school music classes and Academy kids I was teaching over 300 kids a year. That’s a lot of souls to get to know!

I did figure out I have directed over 400 musicals and shows in my life.

 Prompting kids at a school performance

How has your faith influenced your career path?

I was 19 when I learned through a career test that I should be a sociologist, but I was promptly told there was really no such career for a woman. I was devastated, because I had dreamed about studying sociology, signing up for graduate level courses as a freshman. It simply never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it.

I guess I created my own way of studying people through the wonderful experience of casting. I loved uncovering raw talent. Through casting, I learned many things about “character development” and growing a student’s potential. It gave me a glimpse of what it means to have a great influence on the course a student may take. My faith that we have a “director” guiding our lives and gently showing us our path was strengthened through my directorial experience. Believing in the divine potential of every human being pushed me to look deeper for the “talent” in every student. Seeing how a student’s path brought greater growth through hardship, rather than “awarded” success strengthened my faith in my own path.

So I learned how to love through my faith in Jesus Christ, and a little of how our Heavenly Father feels as he directs our path. Each person has a masterful story to tell through their choices and how they deal with adversity.

What is your career-related mantra?

The flexibility of your adaptability is the true measure of your intelligence.

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