Stacey Fellers is happy and quite content–but she is not the type to boast about it. Her good-natured, plainspoken manner belie the depth of her devotion to her professional life and to her partner. Her comfortable, full-throated laughter puts one immediately at ease. Yes, this is a woman who is hard-driving and has high expectations of those around her, but just as important, she is clearly always having fun.
“Someone once described us as ‘Mother Theresa and the distant cousin,’ ” said Stacey Fellers, adding that her partner has earned the comparison to the caregiving Catholic nun. “Lori [Martin] is more reserved and refined–and she’s funny.”
As the executive director of marketing and public relations for the Paramount and State Theatres, it’s her job to make sure the historic institutions are flourishing financially and that the entire community is aware of the offerings. Martin, whose office is around the corner from Fellers, is the organization’s major gifts officer, working with the group’s Century Club members. “We have an unbelievable suppport base that allows us to preserve and maintain both the Paramount and State Theatres” said Martin.
When Fellers joined almost five years ago, she was told that the group was in a pretty dire situation. “I love challenges,” said Fellers. “Now, thanks to such a dedicated staff, the organization isn’t just successful, it’s thriving. It’s been the most rewarding professional experience I have ever had.”
The Paramount, funded primarily by individual donors, along with some corporate underwriters and sponsors, has a fundraising goal of $2.5 million per year (one quarter of that comes from the Paramount’s wildly successful annual gala, which features live music, closes down a portion of Congress Avenue, and has drawn 800 attendees. Fellers is quick to credit the group’s “lean” team of 15 junior and senior staffers for the success. “The team we have is amazing and we work so well together,” Fellers said. “We do things a bit differently than other arts organizations; we package ourselves differently. Our venue is historic and it serves us well.”
Michigan-born Fellers moved to Austin with her family at the age of 5 and, after all these years, considers herself an Austinite. She hemmed and hawed when asked what person she most admires. When she relented, she named her partner, Martin.
“She’s taught me so much in life and has taught me to be a better person,” said Fellers. The pair were casual friends for several years and would see each other at different events around town. Finally, when they were both single at the same time, they decided to connect on a deeper level. Although they live together and work for the same company, they’ve achieved a good balance. “It’s worked beautifully, although we do spend time at night recapping what happened during the day because some days we barely see each other,” said Martin.
“Her office is around the corner from mine,” Fellers said. “She goes in and does her job and I go in and do mine. But it’s nice to walk around the corner sometimes and say, ‘Hey, I had a bad moment.’ ”
Sunday is date night, when they might have dinner in and watch a movie. They also have what they call “X” weekends, when they turn off the outside world and don’t do anything that they don’t really want to do, Fellers said it was much easier to unplug when they first started dating, but technology has changed that.
“We spend a lot of time laughing with each other and with our friends,” said Martin. “Stacey has a great sense of humor and a great laugh–sometimes I can hear it echoing through the office and it makes me chuckle.”
People often ask Fellers what’s the secret to such a successful, long-term relationship. “First, communication,” Fellers said. “Focus on the positive in your relationship, never focus on the negative. I find that a lot of people focus on what’s wrong. Ninety percent of it is right, but most people focus on the 10 percent that’s not. They leave their dishes in the sink–what’s the alternative? Not waking up with them each morning?”
Communication, straightforward and consensus building, is also part of what makes her workplace hum. “We deal with controversy head on,” said said. “We’re all so close together–so we may yell at each other–but then it’s like, ‘Okay, now where do you want to go to lunch?’ ”
Their high pressure jobs don’t allow for a ton of unwinding when they’re in Austin, which is why Fellers and Martin love to travel. The couple spends about four weeks a year taking in the sights in Spain, Italy and France. Paris is their favorite city–they’ve been five times. During their first trip to that city, on what Fellers called a “shoestring budget,” they stayed at a small, old hotel in Saint Germain-des-Prés in the Latin Quarter (they still love the area). After lugging their suitcases down the narrow, winding streets, they walked into the lobby. “The desk clerk–and I use that term loosely–was lounging on an old sofa, smoking a cigarette and listening to old vinyl records of Josephine Baker. She seemed ambivalent about our presence,” said Fellers. “It was the perfect introduction to Paris and now whenever we go back and walk by that hotel, we remember our first time in Paris together.”
They also love to escape locally to visit with Fellers’ family at their ranch in Dripping Springs. “We spend a lot of time in the country and out of the big cities,” she said. “It’s beautiful and it’s like entering a different world.”
When they’re not traveling, they enjoy hanging out and entertaining friends at the Caprice Lounge, which is a playful name given by a friend to the house in Highland Park West that they’ve shared for 13 years. Years ago, an older neighbor, who was 75 at the time, said, “I’ve seen some women here, but where’s the husband?” Fellers replied, “Oh, there isn’t one.” The neighbor died a few years ago but Martin got to know her well and helped her run errands around town. She had purchased her home back in 1954, when that area (near MoPac and 2222) was all prairie. “There was nothing out here, she said, and her husband didn’t want to move,” Fellers added.
Community building and raising awareness has always meant a lot to her, and Fellers has lived here long enough to observe how nonprofit organizations have evolved. She serves on the board of Project Transitions and vividly recalls the early days of the organization, when it was one of the only groups in Austin to tackle the AIDS epidemic and offer loving, hospice care to those who were suffering. Back in the days before drug cocktails changed the medical landscape, Project Transitions helped people with HIV maintain their dignity.
“They were there when no one else was,” Fellers said, adding that her current role involves marketing consultancy work and some development fundraising. “Today, the mission is changing slightly, to include more long-term care and getting people back on their feet.”
As a young girl, Fellers was shy. She said people have a hard time believing that these days, as her boisterous personality shines through, and playing sports was what brought her out of her shell. She knew she was different at an early age, and she recalled her mother dragging her, against her will, to Little League softball tryouts. She’d never swung a bat before and was afraid.
“It gave me confidence and empowered me,” she said, adding that she also played volleyball and basketball in junior high and high school. “There are a lot of girls out there who are disadvantaged or underprivileged, who don’t get the opportunity to do that, and sports can do that. There’s so much research out there–that girls, whether straight or gay–who play sports are more likely to gain confidence, less likely to be abused, more likely to pursue higher education, and less likely to get pregnant as a teenager.”
If she weren’t working at the Paramount, Fellers said she’d like to run a nonprofit for girls’ athletics. “We’re lucky in that we are each other’s biggest fan,” Martin said. “She supports my interest in historic preservation and maintaining Austin’s unique sense of place. I hope she someday has a chance to achieve her dream of starting a nonprofit to empower girls through involvement in sports.”
“I’m very lucky to have what I have today: the perfect partner, a great job, fabulous friends, and a very fun, accepting family.”