When Allison Stockel moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut in December of 2000, her son was 6 months old, her daughter was just about 2 ½ and The Ridgefield Playhouse, a 500-seat nonprofit performing arts center, was just opening its doors with a performance by Jose Feliciano. “It was on the cover of the Ridgefield Press and I had just stopped working in entertainment television,” says Stockel. “I remember thinking: I should volunteer there!” Fast forward to December 2022, which will mark the month that Stockel will walk out of the venue that she helped grow and build for the very last time as Executive Director. “After more than 20 years of volunteering my time as Executive Director, it’s time for me, and The Playhouse, to move on to the next phase of our lives….just like my kids have moved on to their next phases in life. Now I will be a true empty nester!” After 21 years in her role, Stockel has been planning her exit strategy with the Board of Directors to ensure a smooth succession. “It was important to me to promote within this organization,” Stockel says. “We have so many loyal and hard-working employees that have a long history here that it only makes sense to hand the torch over to the next generation.” The next generation includes Managing Director Ashley Paltauf and Artistic Director Jared Shahid, both of whom have been with the organization for more than 15 years between the two of them and who will be co-directing the venue by taking on the roles of Managing Director of Operations and Development (Paltauf) and Managing Director of Talent and Marketing (Shahid).
Shahid, who started out as Stockel’s assistant 17 years ago, left the nonprofit in 2008 to work on the agency side of the business. He went on to start his own speaker’s bureau and worked for Sharktank’s Daymond John for 5 years, among many other ventures. However, his love for live entertainment and the town he grew up in, brought him back to The Ridgefield Playhouse in a leadership position right before the pandemic hit. “It was actually a crash course in getting him involved with our current booking relationships and process,” says Stockel, “because not long after he took over as Artistic Director we had to move and/or cancel more than 300 shows.” Over the past 3 years Shahid has not only successfully navigated the moving of hundreds of shows but has shown his creativity by booking outdoor shows during the pandemic and successfully moving shows back inside.
Paltauf first joined The Ridgefield Playhouse in 2013 and has successfully worked her way up through management. She has demonstrated her strong skill set as a manager during the pandemic by successfully steering the staff and working with patrons through the outdoor tent/field shows as well as transitioning back to indoor shows, while making the experience seamless to all ticket buyers. “We never closed our doors during COVID and instead came up with creative ways to continue the success of our mission and vision of the venue,” says Paltauf. “Patrons wanted to feel safe while enjoying the same concert-going experience they had prior to the pandemic, which we created for them. Although it was a lot of work, we did it with the help of our incredible staff.” Paltauf credits her skills for multi-tasking with the fact that she is also the mother of twins–which is one of the reasons she is so passionate about the Playhouse Arts in Education programming. During Covid, the Ridgefield Playhouse was one of the only venues in the state to continue doing arts in education programming virtually and for free.
The fact that Stockel has worked hard for this nonprofit for the past 20 years, bringing it from a venue that presented 40 shows a year to one that now presents more than 250 acts annually, isn’t so surprising–the fact that she has been doing it for all of these years for free is. “I pour my heart and soul into whatever I do, it’s not the money that makes me work, it’s the results and my belief that what I am doing makes a difference,” she says. So, it is no wonder that her time at the Ridgefield Playhouse and her legacy will be celebrated at the Fall Gala on November 4th. Tickets to the November 4th Gala, which will star Bernadette Peters and have lots of special guests, will go on sale to members on Tuesday, September 6th and to the public on Friday, September 9th. “Allison certainly has made a difference–she has been the ‘face and voice’ of the Ridgefield Playhouse,” says Michael Shinall, President of the Ridgefield Playhouse Board of Directors, “The community, Playhouse patrons, artists, managers, and agents all know and respect Allison. But her legacy doesn’t stop when she leaves because she has assembled an exceptional staff, led by Paltauf and Shahid, that is fully capable of continuing the incredible work necessary to keep the Playhouse successful.”.
And, after getting through a pandemic and a multi-million dollar capital campaign that created a brand-new lobby expansion, upgrades to the backstage and audio improvements in the theater, Stockel feels like now is the right time. “The important thing is that the Ridgefield Playhouse is in a good place,” says Stockel. “We have a great team, strong leadership and a wonderful new venue to host many exciting new events. I am looking forward to seeing where the next 20 years take us….only now I’ll be watching from the audience.”
For more information about The Ridgefield Playhouse Fall Gala or to see the entire season, go to www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org or call the box office (203) 438-5795. The Ridgefield Playhouse is a non-profit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street, Ridgefield, CT and is committed to keeping the arts alive and available to all.