Mark Norwood, who built Reedley’s River City Theatre into a strong and vibrant company that attracted patrons from all over the central San Joaquin Valley, has stepped down as artistic director.
The 61-year-old, who has acted, written and directed dozens of productions at the Reedley Opera House since 1995, announced the decision on Wednesday, July 20.
Norwood’s wife, Denise, pointed to three major reasons for his departure: the ongoing fiscal health of the theater company; the fact that a large expected donation fell through; and Norwood’s own stress-related illnesses.
“He needs some time to decompress,” she said.
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The Reedley Exponent first reported the details of Norwood’s resignation. The company is forging ahead with plans for a 14th complete season, with directing assignments and other responsibilities split among other members of the company.
The 2016-17 season will feature six productions, down from the usual seven.
Norwood will continue in his role as theatre arts coordinator for the Kings Canyon Unified School District.
He and his wife will continue to offer support for the company they founded, she said. Denise Norwood will be choreographing an upcoming production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
She said the hope is that the amount budgeted for his salary can be divided among other staff members and used to pay stipends for artistic staff, and that a leaner organization will be better able to weather a stormy environment of cultural giving.
Matt Wiebe, president of the company’s board of directors, said the artistic director position will remain vacant for now.
“As of right now, we don’t have any plans to replace Mark. Sometime in the future we will,” he said.
An alum of Fresno’s Good Company Players, Norwood returned to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre in 2015 in a triumphant starring performance in the musical “Shenandoah.”
Over the years, Norwood – a consummate actor and accomplished director – often brought a flair and vitality to the small opera house stage that far exceeded many theaters in communities the size of Reedley.
“He’s meant everything,” Wiebe said. “It was his drive and foresight and humongous talent that started this whole thing. We’ve just followed in his wake. He has affected so many lives in a positive way, and we want to keep that work up.”