LENOX -- After a six-month search for its first executive director in 10 years, Shakespeare & Company has hired the leader of the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis for a post that includes the title of president of the Lenox troupe.
Rick Dildine, 34, will begin work in early September, taking over all administrative responsibilities, as well as final programming decisions that had been made by Artistic Director Tony Simotes until the company named composer and stage director Jerry Bilik of Disney on Ice as interim executive director last December.
Dildine will set the strategic direction of the theater troupe and manage its budget, said Board Chairwoman Sarah Hancock in a phone interview from Boston.
"Those are things the board has had to step into over the past couple of years," she said. "He has the skills and is really solid in that area. We're looking forward to his picking up that activity."
Asked about the future role of Simotes -- a 30-year veteran of the company who stepped up to the post in 2009 after founder Tina Packer gave up the title to focus on acting -- Hancock said it would be up to Dildine and Simotes to work out their relationship.
Simotes' contract with the company expires next May.
"It will be up to Rick to determine what happens to Tony's contract beyond that point," said Hancock. "Rick will oversee all areas, make sure they're fitting together, so Tony can focus on programming activities, maximizing his skills.
She explained that under Bilik's leadership, the new structure has proven to be effective.
Dildine, reached at his St. Louis office, declined to discuss Simotes' future. "I'm fresh off the boat," he explained, having accepted the offer from the Lenox theater company in the past few days.
Neither Dildine nor Hancock disclosed the new executive's salary.
Simotes voiced optimism about his relationship with Dildine in a phone interview from his Pittsfield home on Monday.
"I'm pleased the board has made this choice," he said. "Out of the finalists, Rick was definitely the most obvious choice to lead the company. He was dynamic, sharp and insightful about what the company might need in the future."
"Personally, we got along very well in our discussions and he gave me great confidence that the company will be in good hands going forward," said Simotes, 63. "We seem to be on the same page as to what we see as good stagecraft, so it's exciting to hear somebody echo back what you believe is high-quality professional work."
Simotes also said that he and Dildine "had a frank discussion on where the company is" and the goals Simotes would like to pursue as artistic director. "We'll do everything we can, working together with the board to make the company's future as bright as possible," Simotes said.
Simotes said the new management structure has enabled him to work more closely with the board on future issues, and to connect more closely with the company's education and training programs.
"We've been able to map out a more cohesive relationship between performance and education, a positive step for me and the company," he explained.
From Simotes' viewpoint, Dildine's youth is an asset -- "That's part of what the board wanted. He'll bring a kind of generational sensibility to the company."
As for Bilik, Simotes called him a "great choice" in the temporary post. "He came in, took on some of the load and gave me a chance to step away from it gradually. He took off some of the burden I've carried for the past five years."
"Having served as interim executive director with this magnificent company for the past several months, I can think of no better person anywhere to step into these shoes," said Bilik in a prepared statement. "Rick's knowledge, creativity and delightful personality will be a perfect fit to propel the organization to even greater success."
Although his contract with Shakespeare St. Louis extends until Aug. 31, Dildine anticipated working in some visits to Lenox over the summer before he formally assumes his new job in about three months.
"I'm thrilled and very excited," said Dildine, "most excited about becoming a member of the community, of the thriving arts scene in the Berkshires, getting to know the artists, the staff, spending a lot of time learning about the region and getting as prepared as possible for the 2015 season."
"Shakespeare & Company has a long history of incredible theatrical performances and nationally recognized education and training," he added. "My job is to take care of that legacy, help it prosper and see it continue. I'm looking forward to sticking to what we are best known for -- great performances of great Shakespeare plays."
An Arkansas native, Dildine joined the St. Louis theater in 2009 with a goal of reinvigorating it, according to published reports. He has also been director of the master of fine arts program in arts management and leadership at Webster University for the past four years.
He holds an MFA in acting from Brown University in Providence, R.I., and a bachelor's degree from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He's held several roles on various cultural boards in St. Louis. Dildine is also a member of Actors' Equity Association and the Society of Directors and Choreographers.
To give a sense of his personality, he told The Eagle he held his first job on his father's farm, lists his favorite film as "The Shawshank Redemption," his favorite movie genre as "action," and named Meryl Streep as his favorite stage performer.
"Rick has done some amazing work in St. Louis," Hancock said. She said the search firm hired by the Lenox troupe, Management Consultants for the Arts, screened numerous candidates before the troupe's search committee met with seven semifinalists and brought three finalists to the Kemble Street campus for separate, 48-hour visits.
Other priorities for the new executive director, Hancock explained, include property improvements to the parking lot and to the large St. Martin's building, as well as potential demolition of unused structures.
"Rick will have conversations with the stakeholders, including the town," she said. "We have a big property, unused buildings --- more than we need. Maybe we can create some green space."
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