Executive Directors

Ensuring steady growth through the decades.

The Festival had only two Executive Directors in its first 77 years, and welcomes a third, Cynthia Rider, for its 78th season:


PAUL NICHOLSON (Tenure 1995-2012)
Paul Nicholson joined the Festival in 1980, serving as General Manager of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for 16 years before assuming the position of Executive Director in November 1995 and has been responsible for all management aspects of the largest professional theatre in the United States. In 33 seasons with the Festival, he’s worked with four artistic directors: Jerry Turner, Henry Woronicz, Libby Appel and Bill Rauch. He has overseen the computerization of the Festival, headed major fundraising campaigns for the construction of the Allen Pavilion and the Thomas Theatre, and steered the Festival through the economic downturn and the crisis of the broken beam in the Bowmer over the summer of 2011.

While still General Manager, he was instrumental in working the Board of Directors to sign the agreement with Actors Equity in 1983 to become an Equity house, realizing that this would pave the way to greater success for the Festival.

A New Zealander, Paul was the Administrative Director of Downstage Theatre, New Zealand's largest and longest-established professional theatre, for six years. Prior to becoming involved in professional theatre, he worked for 10 years in the corporate world as a planning manager, management accountant and systems analyst.

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Paul has a BCA Honors degree (the New Zealand equivalent of an MBA) from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. He has been a guest lecturer at Stanford University, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Oregon, the Oregon Educational Media Association and the B.C. Touring Council for the Performing Arts, and is a frequent speaker at the Oregon Nonprofit Leaders conference. He has consulted with many U.S. arts organizations, including the William Inge Festival, Musical Theatre Festival in Auburn, Roanoke Island (Lost Colony) Historical Association, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, the Southern Oregon Historical Society, the Rogue Valley Symphony and Britt Festivals. Paul is actively involved in arts advocacy efforts for the state of Oregon and currently serves on the Board of the Oregon Cultural Advocacy Coalition.

He was a founding faculty member of the Western Arts Management Institute and in 1984 became an Adjunct Professor at Southern Oregon University. In 1991, he was featured in the PBS series on management, Nothing Ventured. He has participated on many panels for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Theatre Communications Group (TCG).

Active in community affairs, Paul has served on many local committees and boards and is a member and prior director of Rotary. He chaired Ashland Community Hospital's board of directors and was a member of the board of directors of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. On the national level, he served for many years on the board of TCG.

--Material drawn in large part from interviews published in ‘Prologue’ and the souvenir program.

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WILLIAM PATTON (Tenure 1953-1995)
William Patton (1927-2011) came to OSF in 1948 as a lighting designer and jack of all trades and was appointed General Manager in 1953, Executive Director in 1981, and retired in 1995. He never lost his passion and dedication to OSF, remaining active at the Festival, meeting with donors and rarely missing a play’s opening in the 15 years after his retirement. Patton remained a fervent advocate for the arts throughout Oregon and the nation.

OSF Executive Director, Paul Nicholson, said: “Bill Patton was one of the seminal figures who created the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He brought a wisdom and humanity to the fledging organization in 1953 that has greatly impacted the Festival over the years. Under his astute guidance the Festival grew from 29 performances and an audience of 15,000 to 752 performances and 359,000 attendances in the year he retired. He was a gentleman in every way, kind, thoughtful and caring; his values continue to imbue the Festival. I am one of hundreds and hundreds who can say with certainty, 'If it were not for Bill Patton, I would not be where I am today.' He was my friend, my colleague and my mentor – a great man of the theatre and a great citizen of Oregon.”

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Patton was born in Medford, Oregon on September 22, 1927. The family moved briefly to Berkeley, CA, but returned to Medford where Patton finished junior high and high school, always active in drama activities. Patton’s studies at Stanford University were interrupted by two years service with the Army Air Corps. He returned to earn a degree in drama with a minor in journalism and spent his summers working at the Festival in Ashland. Following graduation and the close of the 1951 OSF season, he worked as a stage hand and production assistant at CBS in Hollywood. It was an interesting time as television was becoming a strong force for the networks.

When Bill joined the Festival as a technical assistant in 1948, and became lighting director the following year. He, like every company member, did a variety of jobs. He even played Paris in Romeo and Juliet in 1949 and Prince John in Henry IV, Part One in 1950.

In 1953 founder Angus L. Bowmer appointed Patton as general manager – the Festival’s first full time employee; in 1981 his title was changed to executive director. His marketing skills and financial care ensured steady growth throughout the more than 40 years that he helmed the organization, leading to the Festival becoming one of the largest theatres in the United States.

Devoted to OSF from the beginning, Patton helped to build community support throughout southern Oregon for both the Festival and the arts. Upon his retirement in 1995, Barry Johnson of the "Oregonian" wrote, “Patton has been a successful administrator, but more than that he has been a forceful advocate for the Arts in Oregon in general and proved that kindness and compassion don’t have to be handicaps in running an arts organization.” Patton was actively involved with the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, serving as president in 1963.

Under his leadership, the Festival acquired a reputation for sensitivity, creativity, intelligence and caring. He had respect for the arts, admiration for talent, appreciation for the community and love of the audience. He was a master negotiator and accomplished his ends with dignity and poise. Patton was also able to lure many talented people to Ashland. Among those was Senior Scenic & Theatre Designer Richard L. Hay, now in his 53rd season at OSF.

Appreciating the collaborative nature of theatre, Patton served alongside three artistic directors: Angus Bowmer, Jerry Turner and Henry Woronicz. Among his proudest achievements during his tenure were the building of the Festival’s performing spaces conceived by Richard L. Hay: the Elizabethan Theatre (1959), the Angus Bowmer Theatre (1970), the Black Swan (1977) and the enhancement of the Elizabethan Stage with the Allen Pavilion (1991; now the Allen Elizabethan Theatre).

In 1983 Patton and Artistic Director Jerry Turner went to New York to accept the Tony Award for regional theatre. Patton achieved a measure of notoriety for being identified as a “show biz exec’ in the National Enquirer, dancing at the ceremony with long-time friend, Ginger Rogers.

In 1993 Patton received the Oregon Governor’s Award for the Arts, and at the 2010 Ashland Chamber of Commerce dinner, he was awarded Honorary Life Member. His life and work have also been honored by the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America, Institute of Outdoor Drama, American Shakespeare Center, Arts Management Magazine, Lewis & Clark College, and Southern Oregon University.

Patton’s comments upon his retirement continue to resonate today: “I think theatre and the arts in general certainly are keynotes to our civilization. And—as you look back in history to the various civilizations that have failed—it generally was because, in part, they paid less attention to the arts and more to wealth and all the policies that feed into war. And those people who are attacking the arts now—well, I think basically that they just don’t understand how important art is to humanity. I’m sure the Festival will still be around—and flourishing—long after I’m gone.”

--Material drawn in large part from memorial tribute in 2011 Souvenir Program

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