In the spotlight: 'Passionate' director takes FTC helm
John Reid has championed children's rights; he's produced and acted in off-Broadway plays; he's even played guitar in Delta blues bands.
So, when he assumed the role of producing artistic director at the Fairfield Theatre Company -- a nonprofit organization known for its live music and theater, youth programs and film series -- in January, he saw it as "the culmination of all the things I'm passionate about."
"My love of music, theater, humanitarian causes -- it's all come together," Reid said, admiring FTC's StageOne venue, which also houses the organization's administrative offices, recently.
Naturally, an individual of such variegated interests has wide-ranging ideas: from expanding youth outreach initiatives to introducing a live jazz series, to opening a new art gallery and community space. In addition, Reid hopes to rekindle the dramatic arts -- the founding basis of FTC.
Flush with ideas, Reid, 60, could usher in one of the most significant expansions of programming in the organization's 12-year history.
"(FTC) is a huge asset to our community," said Reid, who moved to Fairfield two years ago with his wife, Sari, and two of his five children. "It already brings in 35,000 people a year. How can we improve on that?"
Reid has taken the reigns of FTC at a time of sustained profitability for the organization, a feat board members and advisers, past and present, attribute to Reid's predecessor, founding director Miles Marek.
Under Marek, FTC shifted the focus of its programming from theater to live music -- a move that lifted the organization out of the financial doldrums. Now, with the FTC "gaining traction" (a record seven shows in a row have sold out at StageOne this year), Reid sees an opportunity to "explore other programs that, on their own, wouldn't be financially viable."
For instance, Reid, a one-time producer for the Roundabout Theatre's Conservatory and Ensemble Co. in New York City, wants to add limited-run and one-man theater productions to the FTC line-up.
The idea was met with enthusiasm by Carole Schweid, the artistic director of a popular lunchtime theater series at FTC.
"If John can find a way to support theater, that would be extraordinary," said Schweid, who has co-produced Play With Your Food at the FTC since 2008. "It's an extraordinary venue. When you're there, you feel like you're on MacDougal Street."
In addition, Reid hopes to do more in the way of youth programs, a nod to his decades of experience working for children's advocacy organizations. The FTC already hosts a youth theater camp, Sunday family events and music appreciation programs through its partnership with KEYS (Kids Empowered through Your Support), a nonprofit organization that provides music lessons to underserved children in Bridgeport. However, Reid wants to expand on those offerings, citing the "importance of the arts to kids in our communities."
"It's an opportunity to give back to members of other communities, and members of our own community, who don't necessarily have access to music appreciation," Reid said. "We want to make arts and culture available to all."
Born in Washington, D.C., and bred in Mississippi and Virginia, Reid was raised on rockabilly, blues and country music. He played in a bevy of bands in his young adulthood before joining the nonprofit world, rising to executive positions at CARE and World Vision, among others. At the same time, his passion for theater lured him to the stage, where he's acted in and produced more than 20 off-Broadway productions.
He relocated from Arizona to Fairfield two years ago to become the president and CEO of the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, an organization founded by the late Paul Newman that serves kids with serious medical conditions.
Reid first learned of the FTC last year from his neighbor, FTC board member Kurt Soderlund, who thought he would be perfect for the producing artistic director post.
"He's effective at managing and operating, but at the same time, has a very strong appreciation for what it takes to build an organization," said Soderlund, who lives three houses down from Reid in Fairfield. "We were impressed with how quickly he analyzed the current situation and how he could build on it."
Moreover, the organization is getting a performer. Reid, an accomplished Mississippi Delta blues guitarist, hopes to get up on stage and play a lick or two one of these days. After all, he said, StageOne is "a great place to perform."
"This it the most fun I've had in a long time," Reid said in his easy Southern accent. "Maybe I'll be able to open for one of these groups. Now that would really be fun."