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New OSF head looks forward to Ashland

Ashland is a long ways from her home, but the allure of the lead role at one of the most renowned theaters in the country enticed Kansas City, Mo.-raised Cynthia Rider to move west.

Rider will take over as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's new executive director next season, replacing Paul Nicholson, who is retiring after 33 years with the company, 17 of them at the helm.

"The news was official last night," Rider said. "It was a big decision to pursue, but it was a thrilling opportunity. I considered it quite seriously, because I really love Kansas City. It's my hometown."

Rider has been managing director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre since 2009, she said. Prior to that, she served as the Rep's associate director for advancement and administration.

Rider helped raise $7 million for the theater and expanded the diversity of its yearly lineups during her tenure in Kansas City. She oversees a budget of about $7.5 million.

In Nicholson's time as executive director, he saw OSF grow its membership from 2,000 to 18,000, expand its annual audience from 240,000 to 410,000 and increase its budget from $2.6 million to more than $30 million a year.

OSF Board President Rudd Johnson praised Rider's accomplishments in Kansas City and described her experiences as the "perfect mix" for the job of running OSF.

Johnson, who was on the selection committee, said OSF searched internationally for qualified candidates to replace Nicholson.

With the help of a consulting group, the committee analyzed resumes of more than 80 theater professionals and eventually narrowed that down to a list of four candidates, Nicholson said. Those four were invited back for an intensive round of interviews in May, and two of those candidates returned for final interviews in June.

Rider remains in Kansas City, but was introduced to company members as Nicholson's replacement Thursday during a conference call, she said.

"She has just really impressed the heck out of me," said OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch.

"I know she's going to want to come in and do a lot of deep listening with Paul as she assumes the reins of the organization," he said. "It's an important development for us."

Nicholson also endorsed Rider, saying he is confident she will effectively guide the company for years to come.

"We put in a lot of work talking about the candidates with people who know them really well," Nicholson said. "After a great deal of reference checking and conversation with current assistant directors, past coworkers and board chairs, Cynthia emerged as the obvious choice."

Nicholson made it known to the company when he signed a contract five years ago that it would be his last. Though he went a year past his personal deadline, the feeling of retirement is starting to sink in, he said.

"As each step comes along, the retirement becomes more and more of a reality, but I have so much stuff still to do before I retire, they are very busy and long days ahead," he said.

Nicholson will work alongside Rider during December and during a series of short visits she plans to make before then.

"We'll be spending a month together while she learns the ropes here," Nicholson said.

On Dec. 31, Nicholson will step away from OSF.

In September last year when he announced his plans to leave, Nicholson said he'd like to teach, do some consulting and keep a connection to the OSF, maybe something like that of former OSF Artistic Director Libby Appel, who has produced new Chekhov translations for OSF and returned as a guest director.

Rider said her family will move to Ashland first, so her daughter, Lilly, can begin her freshman year at Ashland High School. Rider's husband, actor Stuart Rider, will accompany their daughter.

Their son, Sam, will be a freshman at the University of Kansas.

"Kansas City has a really interesting and vital, growing art community "… What I am really looking forward to is not just getting to know the people at OSF, but getting to know the community of Ashland and the surrounding area," Rider said.

"The community and the arts organizations within it really help support and inspire one another."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.