ASHLAND, Ore. – Our theatrical neighboring town to the north recently kicked off its 2013 season with a new executive director at the helm of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Cynthia Rider, a Kansas City native, has stepped into the considerable shoes of Paul Nicholson, who retired after 33 seasons that saw the festival’s acting company—and audience—double in size, from 300 to 600, and 200,000 to 400,000, respectively.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Cynthia is the perfect person for this vitally important position,” said OSF artistic director Bill Rauch. “Her lifelong passion for the theater was apparent from the moment we first met.”
Rider, who addressed reporters at a press conference during opening weekend, said she was fortunate to be able to spend a month with Nicholson during the transition to her new job. “I felt like I got an advantage most people never get when they move into a new job,” she said.
Rider’s background includes theater studies at Boston College, years as an actress, and several years in nonprofit management in the manufacturing sector before she began managing theater companies, most recently the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
She noted that her former career path was “a world where my own curiosity about public policy and the manufacturing center and creating jobs and all those kind of things came into play, but I felt like I was living some other MBA’s life because I wasn’t doing art,” she said. “So I spent some time trying to find out if there was a way for me to marry this love of art with nonprofit management.”
She found it—and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the latest place to benefit from her passion and experience. It’s a charge she takes seriously.
“I feel the weight here of the stewardship of an institution that’s more than 75 years old,” she said. “This is an organization for great excellence and ambition. My job is to find a way to support that.”
In other OSF news:
New building: The festival broke ground in February on a new production building in nearby Talent, Ore., Rider said. The new facility, where set pieces will be built, will free up much-needed space for rehearsals.
New name: The 10-year-old New Theatre, the festival’s smaller, more intimate venue, was renamed in 2012 the Thomas Theatre, in honor of longtime OSF development director Peter D. Thomas, who died in 2010. The renaming was made possible through a $4.5 million group donation that met the requirements to secure the naming rights.
OSF on the road: Many of the new works commissioned by OSF find life beyond Ashland. For instance, 2011’s colorful outdoor hit, “Pirates of Penzance,” will be recreated for the Portland Opera, using the same design team, musical director, and OSF’s Rauch as director. “Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter” from 2008 has had about 20 productions across the country since its OSF debut, Rauch said. More than a dozen theaters have expressed interest in producing 2012’s “All the Way.”
“We’ve had an incredible track record with new works we’ve commissioned going elsewhere,” Rauch said. “It’s a special thrill knowing this new work you’re doing…has traction and a longer life.”
Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor for 20 years. She lives in Redding and can be reached at email@example.com.