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Ridenour directs last SophistiCats show

May 31, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WILLIAMSPORT -- Ruth Ridenour said goodbye Sunday to 31 years of curtain calls and opening nights at Williamsport High School.

She'll be leaving as head of the school's drama department and taking a new roll as head theater teacher at the new Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, which is opening in downtown Hagerstown in August.

Sunday was the final performance for the school year by Williamsport High's SophistiCats -- and the final time the group will be directed by Ridenour, who broke down in tears during the performance.

"This is my life," she said in an interview following the show. "I never married. I never had children. I do what I love to do all day long, and all night long, sometimes without sleep in between. It's everything I've ever wanted."

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Ridenour said her early training in college was in choral music, and her passion for theater came through her involvement in Williamsport High's drama department and her work with community theater groups.

Opening a visual and performing arts high school in Washington County also has been a dream of Ridenour's. She began working with a group in 1992 with the goal of establishing a magnet program for the arts at a county high school.

"Everyone laughed at me," she said.

Even so, when it was time to apply to teach at the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, Ridenour said she was "scared stiff." She applied in October, but said it was difficult to make the decision to leave the school and community of which she has been a part for three decades. Ridenour taught briefly at the now-nonexistent North Potomac Middle School before taking the job in Williamsport.

Ridenour said the SophistiCats started after a trip to see a show choir in 1982.

"We didn't even really know what it was when it started," she said. "We've just really grown."

Students perform in the SophistiCats, which blends song, dance and theater. The group has performed as many as 30 shows annually, Ridenour said.

She said the student group was the first show choir in Washington County.

Ridenour said what she lacks in formal theater training she more than makes up for in "experience training."

"I see a lot of shows," she said.

Ridenour said she has had a lot of support from SophistiCats alumni, parents, principals and others throughout her career at Williamsport High.

"We've just done some amazing things," Ridenour said. "I'll miss it."

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