Ruth Ridenour

In her life, students take center stage

In her life, students take center stage

May 18, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WILLIAMSPORT -- Ruth Ridenour wasn't planning to be a school theater director -- at least, not so suddenly.

It was the spring of 1978, her first year at Williamsport High School after two years at North Potomac Middle School.

The Williamsport school play was "The Wizard of Oz," and Ridenour was in charge of the music.

Without warning, the play director decided during the rehearsal period that he didn't want to direct anymore.

Three weeks before the curtain went up, Ridenour took over.

"I got thrown into it," but it was a show that she loved and knew well, she said. "It was like a shot of adrenaline."

Thirty-one years later, Ridenour's name is synonymous with Williamsport High theater. She figures she has directed about 60 shows, including "The King and I," "Dracula," "Ten Little Indians," "Harvey" and "Arsenic and Old Lace".


And she has directed the SophistiCats show choir too many times to track, she said.

The show choir's busy schedule includes a show in the fall, and a show and dinner near Christmas.

Ridenour, 54, of Williamsport, will be in charge of the theater program at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts when it opens in Hagerstown in August.

Ridenour knew Ingram, the late wife of Hagerstown property magnate Vincent Groh. Ingram made costumes for shows.

"She was the sweetest person in the whole world," Ridenour said.

Ingram's daughter, Katie, was in the choir at Williamsport, and her son, Stephen, played the cello.

In memory of his wife, Groh donated the South Potomac Street building where high school students will develop their singing, dancing and music talents.

Ridenour, an early advocate of an arts school in Washington County, said she is excited by the opportunity, but finds it hard to leave Williamsport.

She remembers crying at home during the early years, when only 25 people would show up for a chorus performance.

To help build interest, Ridenour tried a variety of things, including staging productions that might resonate more in Williamsport.

"We filled the house with a show on old country music," she said.

Outside of work, Ridenour spends her time in community theater.

She has been with Potomac Playmakers, a community theater group, since 1979. She is the president and directs musicals.

"I don't have any other life," she said about the starring role theater has in her schedule. "This is it."

Q&A with Ruth Ridenour

Resides in: Williamsport

Occupation: High school teacher, theater director

Q: What is your proudest moment?

A: In education, it's the opening night of "Beauty and the Beast" in 2006, Ridenour said. Fathers made sets and mothers made costumes. "Everybody came together to put that show on. They just wanted to do it so badly." Also, the production of "Les Misérables in 2003." Amid controversy about language in the script, all five shows sold out.

Q: Who do you most admire, and why?

A: "I admire anybody that works hard at what they do .... anybody that has a passion." Ridenour's voice teacher at Frostburg State College, Sarah Pierce, was her biggest influence. "She just made me feel good about what I had to offer all the time." Ridenour also mentioned her parents, who never missed their children's activities. "Their whole life was in us."

Q: What is the best piece of advice you have received, and who gave it to you?

A: Her mother. "She always made me feel special. (She said) in order to have a good life, you need to feel special."

Q: What is the next goal you would like to achieve?

A: Ridenour wants local kids to know "there is an ability to make a living in theater." Parents might not think it's possible, but she hopes the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts offers those opportunities and prepares them for arts-focused colleges.

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