By Alison Bailin Batz / Photo by Mark Morgan
Stefanie Lerner gets to play dress up every day – and gets paid for it.
“My job is to ‘dress up’ everything from local resorts for Halloween to entire cities for the Super Bowl,” she explains.
It all started when she began volunteering with her college admissions office – the focus just so happened to be producing events to encourage prospective students to enroll. She was so adept at the work that after graduation, she stayed on with the school another year to help produce large-scale recruitment events.
“Then, I produced events nationwide for other firms before starting my own at 25 years old,” Lerner says. “But then I fell in love with Jeff.”
“Jeff” was Jeff Lowy, owner of Phoenix’s Encore Creative. So, Lerner sold her Denver-based firm and moved to the Valley in 2002.
“We agreed working together would be a mistake,” she says. “That lasted six months.”
Over the next decade, the couple got married and grew Encore into one of the most successful event production companies nationwide, working on everything from NFL pre-game VIP parties to Super Bowl festivities to college bowl game events to the Final Four to VIP events for partners like Waste Management and local philanthropies.
Eventually, however, Lowy was ready to take a step back and Lerner took on the role of CEO in 2014. Today, she leads Encore in producing 500-plus events worldwide annually.
“Right now, we are working on a Star Wars event,” Lerner says. “Sounds pretty basic, right? But, the event is set high atop a mountain that is only accessible via gondola. So, everything we create, from a holographic Yoda to a Death Star, has to be somehow transported via sky ride!”
And, of course, what is fall without some Halloween parties?
“Halloween is one of our favorite times of year!” she exclaims. “We do the big Talking Stick Resort Halloween production as well as some ghoulishly fun projects for private businesses and even individuals across the Valley as well.”
By Sue Breding / Photo by Mark Morgan
She travels the world to places where people speak different languages, yet when she takes the stage, there’s never a language barrier. That’s because Nokuthula Ngwenyama communicates in the “universal language of mankind” – music.
Music is the first language this internationally renowned violin and viola instrumentalist and composer learned.
“I could read and write notes before words, which makes it my primary written expressive language,” Ngwenyama explains. “I was 4 [years old] when I started moving magnet notes around a grand staff!”
Her parents gave her a Zulu name meaning “mother of peace.” Peaceful sounds of string music, executed with deep expressiveness, is what she brings to settings including the Louvre, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and the White House.
“Thank heavens for music lovers in my family who encouraged me with lessons and training,” she exclaims.
Ngwenyama recently became the Phoenix Chamber Music Society’s first composer in residence. Since 1961 (and now in its 58th season), the music society has been bringing small groups of diverse and renowned musicians to the Valley to perform chamber music, which is a type of classical music that is composed for small groups of instruments and ensembles.
“I’m responsible for writing one work to be premiered this upcoming season,” the artist says. “I’m working on a viola quintet called Primal Message for myself and the Dover Quartet.
Ngwenyama is also currently curating Composer’s Choice for the Phoenix Chamber Music Society and Arizona State University Kerr Cultural Center’s co-presentation of a first-ever program in March of 2018. The show will feature works of 21st century composers in film, television and beyond for an intimate chamber setting.
Above all, Ngwenyama strives to bring honesty to her performances, noting music means solace and purpose to her personally.
“Music, quite simply, makes you happier,” she says.