Outgoing director Allison Stockel reflects growing Ridgefield Playhouse from 60 shows a year to 260

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
Allison Stockel, executive director of The Ridgefield Playhouse, is stepping down from her role.

Allison Stockel, executive director of The Ridgefield Playhouse, is stepping down from her role.

Allison Stockel / Contributed photo

RIDGEFIELD — In December 2000, two events occurred that would be forever intertwined. Allison Stockel moved to town and The Ridgefield Playhouse opened its doors. 

From the moment Stockel got involved with the Playhouse the following year, she said she became an integral part of every aspect of its development. She joined the board, got involved with fundraising and then became executive director.

After two decades, Stockel is stepping down from her role. Taking over are managing directors Ashley Paltauf and Jared Shahid. There will be a fall fundraising gala at the Playhouse Nov. 4 to pay tribute to Stockel.

Over the past 20 years, Stockel has brought the Playhouse from 60 shows a year to 260 shows a year. The Playhouse, a nonprofit performing arts center at 80 East Ridge Road, grew from an operating budget of $250,000 to one of $6 million.

"I've grown it to a spot where it is a successful arts organization, especially given the fact that it's only 500 seats," Stockel said.

A life in the arts

Stockel, who is originally, from Hewlett, N.Y. and later moved to Pound Ridge, N.Y., said she grew up with music and arts in her life.

"My uncle started (the music venue) Preservation Hall and I would travel with the band in the summers," she said. She later studied broadcast journalism at New York University and then worked at CNN as the news segment producer.  

When she first got involved with the Playhouse, she joined a group of other volunteers.

"It was started from scratch so we built everything," Stockel said. 

She said knowing who to book for a performance involves a combination of skill, luck and good instincts.

"You have an idea and some of it is your gut and some of it is knowledge and experience. Some of it is stuff that you like and you would want to see," she said. "There's no magic formula. If there was, every performing arts center would be successful."

She added, "You have to be able to understand where you live and what your patron base likes and is looking for. We have a very different patron base than the Westport Country Playhouse. They're a different demographic."

The Playhouse started booking mainly music performers, she said, but added comedy to the mix and then started to slowly build a Broadway cabaret series that brought in artists such as Stephen Sondheim and Bernadette Peters.

She said the Playhouse's biggest accomplishment is being able to "book big names in a small space." 

"Willie Nelson — this is by far one of the smallest venues he ever played at," she said, adding Martina McBride and Paul Anka to the list of performers at the Playhouse.

"We really do get amazing names that come here and enjoy playing in a small venue because it's an intimate connection with the audience that they won't get when they play at the bigger spaces," she added. "Being able to have all of these iconic performers come and play in this small town and this small theater is pretty special."

Stepping down

Stockel said she had been planning to step down for many years and was waiting until the time was right. 

"The timing now is good because I have two amazing people that are 100 percent qualified, which is not an easy thing to find," she said.

The Playhouse recently completed its first capital campaign and underwent a $4 million upgrade

"We're in a really good space right now," Stockel said.

Aside from volunteering her time all these years at the Playhouse, she has volunteered in other organizations including the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, The Center for Empowerment and Education in Danbury and The Lounsbury House, and plans to stay involved with all of them going forward.

Stockel, who moved last year from Ridgefield to Norwalk, said she has no specific plans to join anything new and is looking forward to spending more time with her family.

"I live on the water. I love it. I wake up every morning and see the water. It's beautiful. I really like it," she said. 

"I loved what the venue was able to do for the town I love for the arts," she added. "I'm lucky in the sense that I was able to donate my time for 20 years."