Share / Discuss

Theater Queen

Thanks to the stage, she found herself

During her time at Swarthmore, Lucinda Kidder ’66 wasn’t able to major in theater—no one could.

“Back then it wasn’t considered a discipline,” she says, “so those of us who really liked theater had to do it as an extracurricular.” 

Or, in the case of Kidder, for the rest of her life. 

After graduation, she directed her first play—Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder—in India, where she spent two years teaching English. Irrecoverably hooked, she returned to the U.S., earned two master’s degrees in the field, and immersed herself in teaching, directing, and founding theater companies of her own.

Her most recent is the western Massachusetts-based Silverthorne Theater Company, named after the high school building in which she participated in her first production, and dedicated to staging professional-caliber productions that make a difference. 

“One of the commitments we made upon our founding is that we would put on the very best work that sincerely explores the human condition,” she says. “We want plays that spark discussion, expand horizons, and represent underserved voices.”

Based in the upper Pioneer Valley, Silverthorne launched in 2014 and has notched successes ranging from an adaptation of Henry James’s psychological chiller The Turn of the Screw to the East Coast premiere of Egyptian-American Yussef El Guindi’s award-winning comedy of love and cultural assimilation Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World.

The seeds for that latter production were sown when Kidder was a grad student exploring plays written by and about people of Middle Eastern descent. Her research led to an acclaimed showcase of seven plays by Islamic women—none of which had ever been performed in the United States—at the Tenement Museum’s theater in New York City four months after 9/11.

“My time at Swarthmore contributed to my sense that your work needs to have an impact on people by addressing the places we’re from and the issues we face,” she says. “Live theater is an incredibly powerful tool that can cause you to sit back and say, ‘This is who we are as human beings.’”

In addition to ramping up Silverthorne’s productions, Kidder also plans to develop educational programming using live theater to combat negative American stereotypes of Middle Eastern identity. She is also spearheading the formation of a coalition of all the performing-arts organizations in the Upper Connecticut River Valley.

“Greenfield and the whole region in which we perform is quite an economically and culturally depressed area in a lot of ways—significant drug problems and homelessness, for example—and they need what we have to offer,” she says. “That’s why we’re staying up here: These people deserve to have the very best of theater, too.”

To be where she is now surprises and delights Kidder, who attempted to retire six years ago. Moving out to Seattle to help daughter Emily Wilkins Clark ’01 with her two young sons, Kidder treasured the time with her family but couldn’t resist the siren song of her long-ago first love.

“I had tried, too, to take 10 years off from theater at a point when I was going through a divorce and had to be a single mother and keep body and soul together—but I honestly just couldn’t stay away from it,” she says. “It’s an addiction: bringing something on the page to life in ways that move people and tell us more about ourselves. It’s magic, and God knows I’ll probably be doing this until I croak.

“Starting something at this point in my life was not anything I ever expected to do, but it gives me such joy,” she adds with a laugh. “Onstage and off, there’s hope after 70!”