Passing The Torch – Naples Players

One of Naples Players Longest Supporters Passes the Torch

Jim Rideoutte-1It is the end of an era for Naples Players. Jim Rideoutte is retiring from his post after many years of dedicated service.

A lot has changed since he and his wife ‘came north to Naples’ as they like to say, 24 years ago.

“My last assignment was in the Caribbean trying to get tax treaties and we lived in Nassau, Bahamas working at the Embassy there,” he says. “We realized how nice it would be to live somewhere that you only had to have one wardrobe.”

The couple rented a car in Ft. Lauderdale and drove all over Florida. As the plane taxied down the runway, he turned to his wife and asked, ‘Dear, where did you like best? and she said, ‘Naples is by far the best place I’ve seen.’

“I said there is no disagreement there, so we flew back to Nassau and I gave notice with the Federal Government. I said, ‘Ship my effects to Naples, Florida.’”

The rest is theater history – because upon moving to Naples the Rideouttes bought a subscription to Naples Players. The couple has always loved live theater.

“On our honeymoon we went to a play every night and some afternoons too,” says Rideoutte, whose government work had nothing to do with theater. “When I
was living a nomadic life during my time with the federal government, we always found theaters to patronize.”

Rideoutte, who hails originally from Columbia, South Carolina, has always admired actors and how they can perform on stage. In Naples he became involved in several organizations. His tenure was expiring on two different boards. A friend on the city’s planning board with him invited Jim to lunch with the then president
of the Naples Players.

jim-rideoutte-2jim-rideoutte-2“They asked me if I could come on the board and chair the fundraising steering committee, which they were already in the process of raising funds to build their own theater – they wanted to realize a long dream of having their own theater space,” says Rideoutte. “I joined in the middle of the campaign but eventually we wound up getting all of the funds we needed.”

The facility has never had a mortgage and is fully paid for. After moving into this building the company hired an executive director on a one year contract.

“She was a New York City gal and when her year was up she departed, at which point I became treasurer, but the search committee was having a difficult time finding a replacement,” he says, of the busy time in his life and that of Naples Players. “So at one of the meetings, I said, ‘Time is running out – I can keep the place running for a couple of months.’”

After Rideoutte stayed in the position, he realized he could bring something to the table in a financial respect. He loved the people and the activity. The second time they asked if he’d stick around for the job, he said yes.

“That was 14 years ago,” he says. “I guess they are still looking.” Under Rideoutte’s guidance and sheer love for the theater, Naples Players has experienced much success and growth. The company has been in the building for 15 years, with the main theater at 326 capacity and the studio, or black box theater, seating 90-100 depending on how it is configured. The children’s programs keep the theater extremely busy, in addition to the main theater program.

“I went to a meeting at the University of Wisconsin of executive directors of community theaters, which they have every other year and when I came back I told the board we stacked up with community theaters around the country except for one area of deficiency – the kids’ program,” he says. “Back then we only ran one or two kids’ sessions in the summer and when John Sorey, who was president at the time heard that, he got right behind it and said, ‘We will definitely correct that.’ And we did.”

Now Naples Players runs several hundred kids through the program each year.

“We have been very successful with almost sold out houses and a substantial endowment,” says Rideoutte. “Not only am I proud of what we collectively have done here, but it has been an enjoyable experience.”

When it comes to a select few special people who elevate the organizations they love, it’s easy to wonder why, at the pinnacle of Rideoutte’s time with Naples Players he would retire. But the answer to that question is much like the man himself – it’s all about class. And a Southern gentleman always knows when it’s time to make a change.

“I’ve been thinking about it for some time and nobody goes on forever,” says the 83-year old who dashes up and down the theater stairs like it’s nothing. “I wanted to go out on top – and not wait until someone said, ‘Hey, that guy is slipping.’”

Rideoutte says he has seen people delude themselves, especially in government, who were real firebrands at one time but did not realize they needed to retire. His humility and love of the theater overrides what might be most enjoyable for him. Those and other character traits have earned him the respect of so many throughout the years.

Mayor John Sorey was chair of the executive director search committee and says the two men entered into a blood brother pact whereby they agreed Rideoutte would be executive director for two years and the rest is history.

“Jim has contributed so much to the Naples Players including over $1 million in in-kind services and the development of his staff has helped make it one of the best community theaters in the country,” says Mayor Sorey, who adds that Rideoutte will be missed also for his wit, short fuse, salty language and just being a great guy.

Delores Sorey agrees Rideoutte is known for putting the Naples Players in a sound financial position, but she goes a step further.

“He is undoubtedly the best executive director I have every worked with, totally dedicated to the Naples Players, but he is also funny, gracious, understanding and is always a true Southern gentlemen,” she says. “Jim is the heart and soul of this outstanding organization and I can’t imagine him not being behind his desk.”

What does the future have in store for Jim Rideoutte? He is about to join the airport authority board and says he will continue to do what he can to help the City of Naples.

“The one thing I fear in life is boredom – I have to have something to do,” he says. “The federal government made a gypsy of me, so I have lived all over the country, but Naples is the finest place I have ever lived.”


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