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Catons leave theater in good hands

After heading Mt. Hood Repertory board for four years, Riley and Karen Caton make way for new leadership

Karen and Riley Caton know that theater is a dynamic art, something that moves and breathes. It offers a place for stories and roles that reach far beyond scripts and stage lights.

The Catons have shared the role of president on the board of directors with Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre for four years.

On Monday, Sept 25, they took their bow.

'When we took the position, I felt that there was a story that needed to be told about this company,' said Karen. 'I feel like I have told it. It is time to let someone else take over now and move this theater forward.'

Karen found herself unexpectedly in the position of board president in 2002. New to the community and eager to get involved, she volunteered her services with the nonprofit organization as a way to insert herself into the community.

'When we first took this position, the theater was not a very well known player among the arts community,' she said. 'I really wanted to raise the profile of the theater. Get the word out there about what they were trying to do.'

Tackling the administrative side of the company was no small task. The Catons immersed themselves in grant proposals, funding challenges, royalties and marketing. While in office, they saw the company increase the number of play offerings per season, establish a Web site and open a storefront office in downtown Gresham.

'In many small communities, there is an artistic isolation. They have their own places with their own followings,' said Riley. 'Here, there is a large metropolitan area where we had to compete for the same donors as larger and established places. It was a challenge.'

Having successfully reached a milestone with the theater as it celebrated a decade of plays, the Catons both said they still strongly support and believe in Mt. Hood Repertory.

Having increased both the organization's visibility and public recognition, they are excited to see the theater's next evolution.

Taking the helm for that journey is Sharon Williams, who has served as board treasurer for three years.

Williams said she has felt a strong connection to theater since she was a child and has vivid memories of her grandparents sharing stories about shows that they saw in the 1930s.

Seasoning her management and financial skills at MBank, Williams looks forward to her new role.

'I want to continue to build upon their progress and get the word out about the theater. This community has the good fortune to be the home of such a great theater company,' she said.

Williams said she plans to meet with the new board members soon to unify the board's agenda.

While the Catons are stepping down and making plans to pursue new opportunities in travel writing and photography, Artistic Director Tobias Andersen said he is pleased that they are remaining on the theater board.

'They truly expanded our horizons and raised the bar for this company so high,' said Andersen. 'They are well known in the community and well loved by the community.'

Mt. Hood Repertory Theatre received the highest level audience support during the 10th American Classics Season than any other year, said Andersen. While the exact direction of company is uncertain at this time, Karen said that she and Riley are excited to watch it grow.

'Now it's their turn to tell the story,' she said.