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Leslie Hormann’s first exposure to Fort Wayne Youtheatre came when she was in fourth grade.
“I spent a lot of grade school standing in the hall because I was talking too much,” Hormann said. “My fourth-grade teacher suggested Youtheatre to my mother because she knew I needed an outlet for all of my talking and energy. But even before that, I was into performing. I would turn every book report at school into some sort of performance and would act out what the book was about.”
Encouraged by her teachers, Hormann began doing shows. Her activity in theater continued through high school but waned as she prepared for college.
“I didn’t want to be an actress,” she said. “I didn’t have that drive. When I went to college in Bloomington, I was completely out of theater.”
Hormann turned to her true calling and became a teacher, albeit one who used her performance chops to inspire her students. She also took charge of school plays at her stops in the Fort Wayne Community School system, including Forest Park, Ward, and Weisser Park.
After becoming a mother, she stopped teaching and eventually found herself a new gig as radio partner to Doc West at WXKE. It was her unique combination of interests and experiences that led to a sudden career shift.
“I got a call from Linda Ruffalo, who was an old friend of my parents and was the chair on an emergency board that was called in to save Youtheatre,” Hormann said. “They were in trouble then. They hadn’t made payroll in two years, and I was asked to come in and become the managing director.”
That first year, 2010, was a challenge. Fort Wayne Youtheatre did not even own a computer. They were unable to accept credit card payments for their performances. Bringing Youtheatre into the 21st century was Hormann’s top priority.
“My first ask was for a computer,” she said. “I applied for a grant from the Community Foundation, and Arts United helped me find a good used computer. They were very supportive through all of it.
“It’s really like running a presidential campaign. You look for as much free marketing as you can find. Up until then there were no classes at Youtheatre for preschoolers, and with my background in education, I wanted to bring that component into it more. We ended up doubling our enrollment that first year I was there.”
After that first year, Fort Wayne Youtheatre was in the black, a remarkable turnaround. Under Hormann’s leadership, enrollment continued to grow, and the Young Heroes of Conscience Series, written and directed by Gregory Stieber, was created. Now retired from Youtheatre and residing primarily in Florida, Hormann continues to come back and connect with the place that saved her from standing in the hall at school.
“I’m still helping with the development committee and host some fundraising events,” she said. “I’ll always be available to donate my time to Youtheatre.”