Story by Natasha Anderson | Photo by Joye Ardyn Durham
When Rae Geoffrey was a young girl, her grandmother took her to see the musical Annie. Geoffrey was mesmerized by the production. So much so that the experience set her on the path she has followed to this day. “I didn’t understand why I was crying when the curtain went up,” she says, “but from that moment on, the arts staked a claim on my soul and I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
Geoffrey, who is from Ohio, went on to build an impressive resume while working to fulfill her mission to bring the arts to everyone. Her early career included roles as a performer, director, designer, arts educator, theatre manager and arts administrator. She has worked with The League of Chicago Theatres, Charlotte Repertory Theatre and Merle Reskin Theatre at The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Having spent many childhood years in Western North Carolina, Geoffrey always felt the region was her true home. She happily accepted an opportunity to join the staff at Diana Wortham Theatre (DWT) in 2001, and relocated from Chicago to Asheville. As the theatre’s director of outreach, Geoffrey created a successful education series serving 10,000 students per year, establishing the Youth Education Scholarship (Y.E.S.) Fund, and building a solid volunteer corps.
“Far from being simply entertainment, the performing arts have the power to transform communities and lives,” she says. “They fuel inspiration, educate, bring people together, create conversations, deepen understanding and grow the local economy.”
In 2008, Geoffrey was promoted to DWT’s associate director. In this role, she oversaw staff management, organizational planning and artistic programming, trusting those same feelings she experienced when she first saw Annie as a child. “I still rely on that swelling in my chest and pricking of tears to make artistic decisions about the performers we bring to our stage,” she says.
Her instinct has served her well. Geoffrey’s leadership has been recognized by peers and colleagues, who recently elected her as board president of the North Carolina Presenters Consortium, a trade organization of theatres across North Carolina and neighboring states. This month, she begins her new role as DWT’s managing director, following in the footsteps of John Ellis, who retired in June after more than 20 years in the position.
Ellis and Geoffrey have worked closely together to support the theatre’s growth through a phased transition process over the past year. The focus has been on upgrades to the theatre and the development of additional venues through DWT’s expansion campaign, The Next Stage.
“If our walls could talk, you would hear the haunting sound of bagpipes during A Swannanoa Solstice, the collective laughter of hundreds of small children seeing a matinee performance, the roar of countless standing ovations and encores—these are all part of the magic that happens at the Diana Wortham Theatre,” says Geoffrey. “The growth of the organization and community over the years has been astounding and I’m thrilled to lead the theatre into the next stage of our exciting future.”
Learn more about Diana Wortham Theatre at dwtheatre.com. You can also follow DWT on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.