DORSET — Dorset Theatre Festival’s Board of Trustees has announced Will Rucker as the company’s executive artistic director and Ryan Koss as Managing Creative Director in advance of the upcoming 46th summer season. The Festival also announced the launch of an endowment fund.
Rucker and Koss have been members of the Festival’s leadership team for the past 5 seasons and worked as seasonal managers at the Festival prior to their full-time appointments in 2018.
Dorset has also received two of the largest gifts in the organization’s history from The James H. and Irene M. Hunter Charitable Trust and Mary-Anne and Bob Van Degna. Totalling one million dollars, the gifts have been dedicated to an endowment fund for the Dorset Theatre Festival.
“There continues to be devastating news about theaters that did not survive a comeback and are closing their doors for good, and I’m so grateful to all the people who are fighting for Dorset Theatre Festival’s permanence, growth and success,” said Kim Beaty, Chair of Dorset Theatre Festival’s Board of Trustees. “Will and Ryan have been dedicated to the Festival’s mission and vision, deeply involved in all aspects of the organization for the past several seasons, and were also instrumental in keeping the Festival alive throughout the pandemic. This leadership, sustained by the visionary support of our loyal donors, including our Premiere Circle members, community donors, and most especially by the Hunters and the Van Degnas, marks a new era for the Festival and underlines the value of this organization and its significance to our town,” Beaty said.
As Producing Director since 2018, Rucker has line produced the past five seasons, including Slow Food by Wendy MacLeod, the world premiere of Thirst by Ronan Noone, and a staged reading of I Need That by Rebeck, starring Danny and Lucy DeVito. As a stage manager, Rucker’s productions at Dorset include the world premieres of Theresa Rebeck’s The Way of the World and Downstairs, starring Tyne Daly and Tim Daly, as well as The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Rucker has worked on new plays at the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Working Theater, the Playwrights Realm, Lincoln Center, and Yale Rep. As an educator, he has been a guest artist at the Yale School of Drama, New York City’s New School for Drama, and has taught Shakespeare and improvisation in juvenile correction centers. He was also an artistic director of the Yale Cabaret.
Ryan Koss has worked as a professional theatre artist for the past 16 years with a background as a performer, developing new work at theaters like Radio City Music Hall, Planet Hollywood Resort in Las Vegas, Off-Broadway, on tour, and many productions at regional theaters across the country. Ryan finished his master’s degree in arts administration at Baruch College while working as a producing assistant for Tony Award-winning producer Andy Sandberg and as a designer for acclaimed Brooklyn-based event designer Lindsay Rae Design.
Rucker and Koss relocated together from New York City to Vermont full-time in 2018, were married in Tinmouth, Vermont in 2019, and became Dorset residents after purchasing a home in 2020.
“We love the community we’ve built here over the past several years,” said Ryan Koss, Managing Creative Director. “We are grateful for the trustees’ confidence in our skills and leadership, and we look forward to carrying on with our work rebuilding after the pandemic, being creative in this amazing place, and creating a sustainable future for the Festival,” Koss said.
The 2023 season of professional plays, to be produced at the Dorset Playhouse, begins June 23, 2023.
One of the two initial donations to establish the endowment fund was provided by The James H. and Irene M. Hunter Charitable Trust, which was created by the family to support the Hunters’ values after their passing, and has contributed to many non-profit organizations in the region. During the pandemic, the foundation decided to sunset the trust and make final gifts as endowments to protect and preserve select institutions.
“The arts economy in Southern Vermont and the surrounding region is world-class and continues to grow, but ticket sales alone will never be able sustain our main stage season nor support our new play development activities. These donors came together as community members with a vision and an understanding that a firm operational footing is what allows us to take artistic risks,” said Will Rucker, Executive Artistic Director.
“We asked ourselves, ‘what would Mom want?’ We all felt that we should allocate our parents’ funds to the Southshire and the Northshire where they lived and loved their lives,” said Susan Hunter, in a conversation about her philanthropy with Dorset Trustee Deborah Riemer. “One of the real benefits of growing up as a child of Irene Hunter was that we learned there are lots of ways to leave the world a better place. If you’ve ever loved something, or chosen to be somewhere, be a steward. Take care of that which does not belong to you,” Hunter said.
“Theatre heals. It feeds the soul. A good story, whether it’s difficult, scary, or simply engrossing, fuels the mind, builds empathy, and inspires strength in people,” said Mary-Anne Van Degna, who is also President of Dorset’s Board of Trustees. “Our gift is to help sustain the Festival’s mission of telling stories through theatre to our community and beyond. The Hunters understood that. Even though Bing and Irene Hunter are no longer with us, we will be forever thankful for their belief in sustaining the Festival’s legacy, and feel proud to continue what they have helped begin,” Van Degna said.
Returns on the investment will be used as part of an ongoing strategy to safeguard the Festival’s operations and mission.
“This will be the first step in securing the Festival’s future,” said Rucker. “We’ve had an even bigger financial need since the pandemic, and while the support we have received has been amazing, I hope this extremely important investment that the Hunters and the Van Degnas have made will inspire other donors who love Dorset Theatre Festival,” Rucker said.
Tickets for the 2023 Summer Season are on sale now. The box office may be reached by calling (802) 867-2223 ext. 101, Wednesday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. For more information, or to purchase subscriptions and tickets online, visit www.dorsettheatrefestival.org.
Support For Dorset Theatre Festival is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Arts Council, the Shubert Foundation, the Rodgers Family Foundation, the James H. and Irene M. Hunter Charitable Trust, and the members of the Dorset Theatre Festival World Premiere Circle.
More information is available on Dorset’s website, www.dorsettheatrefestival.org/endowment.