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A Power House

Allison Stockel's ten years at the Ridgefield Playhouse



Kristen Jensen

Allison Stockel’s office at the Ridgefield Playhouse for Movies and Performing Arts is filled with memorabilia—tour-bus stickers, signed guitars, performance posters, autographed T-shirts, you name it. This collection represents Stockel’s ten years as executive director, tasked with booking shows, filling seats, and managing talent.

Stockel has undoubtedly been the driving force behind the Playhouse’s success. “It was a great little theater when it started, and it would probably have continued to be today, except for Allison Stockel,” says Debbie Gravitte, a Tony-winning Broadway performer who’s on the Playhouse arts advisory board. “She has made it a regional venue.”
 

Stockel moved to Ridgefield in 2000, with husband Jon; Samantha, then two; and Cole, six months. “When I heard about the Playhouse, I was so excited. I went to every show they put on that year.” She quickly joined the board and helped with the gala at which Gravitte, Alan Menken, and Stephen Schwartz performed. “It was perfect for me,” says Stockel, having worked for CNN Entertainment, MTV, and VH1.

Then in 2004, when the board removed the first executive director, it asked Stockel to act as interim director. “I knew I was going to stay on,” she says, “but I didn’t know it would be ten years.”

The first year there were 14 shows and barely enough money to get through the year. In 2014, the Playhouse will raise the curtain on 160 live performances. The non-profit is financially sound, with seven full-time employees—including Stockel, who has never accepted a salary—which would likely be about $125,000. In addition, there is a production team, box-office crew, and concessionaires.

A non-profit, the Playhouse relies on ticket-goers and donors. With Willie Nelson performing at a gala this September, nearly 500 people paid $250 for a reception and show. Money from ticket sales covered the $100,000-plus needed for Nelson’s fee and performance costs. Profit came from sales of silent-auction items, such as jewelry, sports tickets, and wine baskets; and live-auction items, such as a signed Willie Nelson guitar ($5,600); a dinner catered by Sarah Bouissou ($2,500); and a trip to London ($4,800).

And it’s a two-way street. The Playhouse attracts people and dollars to town. One study reveals that the 75,000 annual show goers pump more than $1 million into town businesses. Not to mention the performers who need to eat and sleep—Nelson’s entourage filled 32 hotel rooms. Boz Scaggs spent $400 stocking his bus at Nature’s Temptations. At the gala, Stockel asked how many people were from out of town and about half the audience raised their hands. “It made me so proud of the Playhouse,” says Gravitte, who at the gala was presented the Arts Volunteer Award by Harvey Fierstein. “Allison’s really put tentacles into the surrounding towns.”

What people love about the venue is that you can see top performers, close to home, in a small theater. Upcoming shows include David Sedaris, Willie Nile, Natalie Cole, Bruce Hornsby, and the Met Opera: Live in HD. “Performers like the vibe,” Stockel explains. LeAnn Rimes said it felt like she was playing in her living room.

Stockel has no plans to step down soon, but when she does the Playhouse will be well-endowed—with a strong board, operations infrastructure, and good staff. And, a surprise to her at the gala, the board announced a $250,000 endowment has been started in her name.

“Now that the VNA is moving out of the building, it would be great if the board of ed could move to that space,” says Stockel, who points out that tour buses park outside the entrance to the Board of Education. “It can be disruptive. Besides, their space is so much better situated for us—we could expand the lobby and the green room,” her eyes lighting up. “I have big dreams for this place,” she says. “I really do.”

Click the link to watch a video of Stockel in action - Dedicated Rock Star Donates Her Salary to the Arts!

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