By Vickie Aldous
for the Mail Tribune
Cynthia Rider’s new job as Oregon Shakespeare Festival executive director may be to oversee the financial side, but she’s no stranger to the stage.
Rider began taking acting classes at age 6, majored in theater while in college and has worked as an actress.
“I started as a performer,” she says. “That has been a wonderful thing. I have an all-around view of theater. I understand how much courage it takes to get on stage.”
Rider says she wants to make sure that everyone who works to bring a play to life has the resources they need to do the job right.
Rider officially settles into her new role this month. She spent much of December getting a crash course from Paul Nicholson, who spent 33 years with OSF and served as its executive director for 17 years before retiring at the end of 2012.
“He both gave me a sense of the tradition and history at OSF and how that’s honored here, but he also told me to never let it curtail you from innovating and doing new things,” Rider says.
She says Nicholson left OSF in a strong financial condition.
Before relocating to Ashland with her family, Rider worked as the managing director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
While there, she helped raise $7 million for a second stage and supported the creation of new plays, according to OSF officials.
Rider is married and has one child attending Ashland High School and another in college.
When she first came to OSF, Rider loved seeing how many students attended plays there.
She says most youths can handle plays that some adults think might be too challenging.
“It’s great for kids to see something that adults think is a little beyond their comprehension level,” she says. “Usually, it never is. There are great conversations that you can have after seeing a play.
“Kids deal with grief and political issues and other topics,” she adds. “Theater gives them a chance to talk about it.”
Rider says one of the central questions affecting OSF is how to make plays accessible, while also generating enough revenue to fund great work.
Some patrons pay premium prices for tickets or donate money, which helps OSF offer ticket deals to youths, under-served populations and locals, she says.
“We do want people to feel that OSF is their place, whether they see one show or all of them,” she says. “OSF does a great job in balancing that.”
Challenges ahead for OSF include finding enough space to handle performances, education programs, rehearsals and everything else that takes place at the company, Rider says.
She says OSF is fortunate to have audience members who are so receptive, enthusiastic and intelligent.
Likewise, the theater company’s setting in the heart of Ashland is a great asset, Rider says.
“People come because Ashland is charming, and the Rogue Valley is phenomenally beautiful,” she says.
Rider says she also understands the value of nonprofits such as OSF working with government and businesses.
Earlier in her career, she was the acting director of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Partnership, a coalition of federal, state and private entities that worked to strengthen small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses across the state.
“That gave me a real appreciation for the day-to-day passion and commitment that it takes for small business owners and their employees to succeed,” Rider says. “As Ashland and the Rogue Valley go, so goes OSF. Our success is their success.”
Rider says she wanted to thank everyone — from school and city officials to company members and local residents — for the warm welcome they’ve extended.
Alongside OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch, who has responsibility for the plays, actors and other elements of putting work on stage, Rider says she is honored to have a leadership role at the theater company.
“It’s one of the greatest theater companies in the country in one of the most beautiful parts of the country,” she says.
Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.