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Victoria McGinnis: Living a life of symmetry

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Washer

Photos by: Mary Hurlbut

There is a symmetry to Victoria McGinnis’ life. With two homes and two careers, she seems to like things in pairs. But it goes even further than that. Her two careers, though seemingly different, are actually quite similar, at least the way McGinnis approaches them. She has found her place both on center stage as a performer and behind the scenes as an editor/director/producer. The performing part seems to have been pre-ordained; the other speaks to her resourcefulness.

A performer from the start

As a native New Yorker, McGinnis began performing with her father, a big band drummer and orchestra leader, at the age of three. “It was at the Riverboat Room, a posh supper club in the Empire State Building. He had given me the direction, ‘After you finish singing the song, I will gently squeeze your hand and that is your cue to leave the stage.’  Well, I finished the song, he squeezed my hand, but I made like I didn’t notice. He kept squeezing my hand. I looked up at him and he saw in my eyes the way I felt, how much I loved being there. He then turned to the audience and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a bit of a problem, my daughter doesn’t want to get off stage!’ The audience roared! I loved it!” she recalls. The two began regularly performing as a duo when she was 16. 

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Victoria McGinnis, singer, editor, producer, director and Laguna Beach resident

A graduate of Fordham University, McGinnis studied theater. “I was always in front,” she explains. Center stage is someplace she feels very comfortable. Her introduction to the behind-the-scenes world arrived after she graduated.

Being nice wins her a ticket to the mailroom

 McGinnis says she took a job at a production company doing voice-overs. One day she got a strange request. “They asked me, ‘Can you sit in our mailroom and handle the mail?’ The mailroom person had quit.” Not jumping at the chance to sit in the mailroom, McGinnis says she reminded them she was their voice-over person. “Why did you ask me?” she remembers questioning. “They said, ‘Because you’re nice,’” she recalls with a hint of exasperation.

A poor candy selection is a motivator

Once in the mailroom, McGinnis says, “I was bored. They had a bad vending machine, bad candy. So I started researching vending machines.” She says she found machines that were better and cheaper. The office manager was all for it. 

In her enthusiasm for securing better snack food for herself and co-workers, McGinnis says she decided to take charge. “I sent out a global voice mail asking what kind of candy and stuff people wanted in the vending machines. It went to everyone, the head of the company…everyone. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed do that,” she says ruefully. The office manager was stricken. “She was telling me, ‘You can’t do that! You might get fired.’ I was scared to death!” remembers McGinnis. 

Her quest for better candy pays off

 Later that day, just like in the movies, she saw the head of the company heading her way. This, she assumed, was not going to be good. He approached her, “Are you Victoria in the mailroom?” She says she remembers feeling pretty confident that she was going to be fired on the spot. Instead, she recalls, “He shakes my hand and passes me a slip of paper with a big smile on his face and says, ‘I’ll take M&M’s.’“ After that people started hiring me as a production coordinator,” she says with a laugh.

Editing is an “aha moment”

She didn’t stay a production coordinator for long. An editor at the production company she worked for invited her to watch him edit one of his projects. “It was an ‘aha’ moment. Editing images together is so much like putting two notes together. I couldn’t get enough of it,” she says. In six months after watching and learning, she was hired as an editor. “I was with that company for four years,” she says. She has since added producer and director to her resume, in addition to editor.

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Victoria McGinnis in her element at GG’s Bistro

Victoria’s bicoastal aspirations began in 1997 when McGinnis came to Laguna Beach for the first time after her father passed away. Not only had she lost her father, she had lost the other half of her act. Obviously, it was a very emotional time. A friend, sensing McGinnis’ need to get out of New York, invited her to Laguna Beach.  “New Yorkers think southern California is all just LA,” laughs McGinnis. Her friend convinced her, “’It’s better than LA!’” 

Finding Laguna at the right time

On the drive home from John Wayne Airport, McGinnis says it was nighttime. They drove through the canyon, down Broadway where, ahead of her in the distance, she saw nothing but blackness. Questioning her friend about this strange phenomenon, she was told it was the ocean. “What?!” McGinnis says, recounting her surprise. “I didn’t realize it was right next to the ocean!” If timing is everything, then the timing was right for McGinnis to find Laguna. “It was an amazing week for me to find this town – so lovely, liberal and open.” So she started to seriously consider living here, as well as NYC.

In 2003 she made that a reality and got an apartment in town. She maintained that same apartment until she bought a home here two and a half years ago. She explains she used to divide her time seven months in New York and five months in Laguna. Since the home purchase, however, that ratio has shifted to favor more time in Laguna.  Her partner, Tori Johnston, is a 20-year Laguna resident originally from Scotland. “She had four daughters when I met her so now together we have four daughters. All Laguna Beach girls,” says McGinnis proudly.  

Putting down roots in Laguna inspires a desire to get involved

Since becoming a homeowner, McGinnis says a newfound desire to get more involved in the community promoted her and Johnston to become Board members of Chhahari, a local non-profit that runs an orphanage in Nepal. To hear McGinnis talk about the kids who reside there, whom she hasn’t met personally and only knows through the videos she edits from other people’s footage, is to hear a woman passionate about this cause. “I feel like I need to meet them,” she says emphatically. She and Johnston are looking to do just that in 2019. McGinnis proudly tells me their eldest daughter has already been there.

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Victoria McGinnis is an exceptional multi-tasker, singing and playing percussion

Laguna is becoming her own personal musical

For now, McGinnis is more than content to perform her standing Wednesday night gig at GG’s Bistro in addition to performing regularly at the Sawdust Festival, and other gigs around the southland. “I’ve been at the Sawdust a lot and I love it! There is such anonymity in New York. It can be very lonely. Here, in Laguna, it’s amazing for me. So many people walk by and wave. And at GG’s, with the great locals…There are nights where everybody’s singing ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’…It’s how I’ve wanted to live my life. You walk down the street and everybody’s singing.”

A father’s words ring true

Apparently, her father, who never visited the west coast, was right when he told her, “Dolly, (he called her Dolly) you belong in southern California. You love the sunshine. That’s where you should be.” And while she is by no means relinquishing her New York ties, she says now home is where her house and family are. “I feel like I’m finally a local. I feel like I’m really settling, really enjoying things.”

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

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