Riopelle, 39, was last seen on BoarsHead’s stage in last season’s “Forbidden Broadway,” and he also starred in a critically acclaimed production of “Stones in his Pockets” during the 2004- ’05 season.
A Michigan native, Riopelle grew up south of Detroit in Riverview, and he has split his time since then between Chicago and New York. He begins his work at BoarsHead coming from a stint on the national tour of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
This will be the largest administrative role Riopelle has played at a theater. His previous office experience includes company manager for the National Shakespeare Co. in New York and head of drama at Northbrook Theatre, near Chicago. “I think I bring out a kind of unique mix of having some national experience as an actor in the industry and also very strong Michigan theatrical ties,” Riopelle said.
Before accepting the job, Riopelle made calls to Thatcher and theater co-founder John Peakes, who he said both encouraged him.
In June, BoarsHead’s board announced it could no longer afford two full-time executives and would not renew Thatcher’s contract at the end of summer. The other is executive director John Dale Smith.
Riopelle’s new position is a parttime job with no medical benefits. For his artistic and educational work, he will be paid $32,000 (a little over half of Thatcher’s salary of $59,000). Riopelle will continue to work as an Equity actor as a way to receive health benefits. “It’s a very sound business decision,” Riopelle said. “It does mean I put in more hours and have extra duties, but as someone who loves acting, it’s not a negative thing, it’s a positive thing.”
Riopelle earned his Actors’ Equity card at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network and had his first major Shakespearean role at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. He maintains relationships with the staff of those companies as well as Tipping Point Theatre (Northville) and Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester). “I certainly want to call on some of the artistic leaders in the different theaters that I’ve worked with and others I haven’t met yet, and get their counsel and advice,” he said.
In general, Riopelle said his tastes in theater are “pretty mainstream,” learning toward shows with a “history of success.”
But that history can be recent; Riopelle cited John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” (which BoarsHead produced in 2007) as a recent show with name recognition.
Riopelle’s influence on show selection will come as early as this season; two previously scheduled shows, “Death of a Salesman” and “I Love a Piano,” have been dropped after refiguring costs and replaced with shows he chose.
The first is traditional Christmas show, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” in December. The second is the Frank Sinatra review “My Way” next spring.
Despite a shaky financial situation and some outcry over Thatcher’s release, Riopelle said he believes in the support of his colleagues. “I feel very confident in kind of a new day for the BoarsHead Theater, and I’m really looking forward to jumping in and hitting the ground running,” he said.