The new head of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is promising to put more women and minorities in leadership roles within the organization.
Incoming executive producer Tom Ridgely comes to St. Louis from New York, where he founded and directed Waterwell Theater, a company focused on presenting new works — and was committed to diversity — Ridgely said.
Ridgely looks forward to the festival’s 2018 mainstage production in Forest Park, a modern version of “Romeo and Juliet,” and is impressed by the festival’s 17 years of success. But he plans to take the organization much further in terms of inclusion.
In a conversation about his approach to the position, Ridgely talked with Nancy Fowler about the prevalence of white men at the top of many arts organizations, including the one he's now running.
Nancy Fowler: So there was some grumbling after the announcement that you were to head the company because there was a woman interim producing director and she was not chosen — nor was any woman. And I know I saw some things on Facebook. Is that something that you've heard and how would you address that?
Tom Ridgely: Well it's something that's happening field-wide, which is a real issue. Obviously, diversity and inclusion at every level in the theater needs to be addressed. And nowhere more than at these leadership positions. So I can certainly understand there being grumbling about yet another white man being hired to lead an arts organization. So, all I can say is that I am deeply committed to creating opportunities for women and people of color and not only on stage but off stage, and in real decision-making roles within organizations like the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. I'll be doing everything that I can to create opportunities for people who have found it harder to get those opportunities before. It’s something that's important to me, and something that's been at the center of what I've done at Waterwell.
So, I know it's important to the festival so this isn't just something that I'll be starting to do. But it is something that I take really seriously and will make a very high priority.
Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL