Greg Hopper-Moore is the newly named general manager of the Richard E. Wildish Community Theater in downtown Springfield. BRAD COOK/FLASHBOX STUDIO

SPRINGFIELD – In a profession with a literal spotlight, Greg Hopper-Moore, 53, the newly named general manager of the Richard E. Wildish Community Theater in downtown Springfield, has always felt at home working in a dark corner of the house, far from center stage.

“As a stage manager, which I’ve been for years, I’m most comfortable with a headset on, talking to all the other people behind the scenes, and making sure none of us is ever noticed,” said Hopper-Moore when I met with him recently in the theater’s green room.

That training and experience as a stage manager has prepared him well to help move the Wildish into the next evolution of its existence.

“The buck truly stops with me,” Hopper-Moore said. “As a stage manager for theater companies all over the West, I’ve learned to both lead and problem solve in real-time when every element of the performance hinges on your ability to think on your feet and collaborate minute-to-minute.”

Interestingly, however, Hopper-Moore spent much of his adulthood employed as a full-time educator while “gigging” as a stage manager. A graduate of the University of Oregon with a degree in French and a master’s in education, he has worked in education for the past two decades.

“I guess you could say my vocation was teaching and my passion was theater,” he said. “I certainly enjoyed being a teacher, but this little voice in my head kept popping up and nagging me to follow that passion. Eventually, I made the jump.”

Greg Hopper-Moore at Richard E. Wildish Community Theater in downtown Springfield. BRAD COOK/FLASHBOX STUDIO

That jump, explained Hopper-Moore, was not easy. 

“Theater life can be a very transient existence where you literally pick up and follow a show wherever it goes,” he said. “So, for about two weeks of rehearsals and three weeks of a show, you live and breathe the performance – and then you pack up and move on.”

And so began Hopper-Moore’s life of moving between Eugene and other cities like Oakland, Palo Alto, Astoria, and Bend for nearly a decade to manage productions. “I love the excitement and the energy and the focus that is required to manage a stage,” he said. 

Such requirements can take a toll, however. It’s often much easier to be single and younger while living the vagabond lifestyle of a stage manager.

During one of these stints in Arkansas stage managing Opera in the Ozarks, his wife Shelli sent him an announcement for the general manager position at the Wildish. “She actually thought I wouldn’t be interested, but it came at a time in my life when I really wanted to recalibrate my energy. As a stage manager, you give yourself to a production; as a general manager, you give yourself to a theater, and that theater stays put.”

So, after a thorough interview process with the theater’s board of directors, Hopper-Moore was named general manager of the Wildish, matching, in some ways, a leader and a venue that have both undergone transformations.

“Like many performing arts centers across the country, Springfield’s Wildish Community Theater is looking forward to a return to full houses and the best of stage entertainment in the year ahead,” Wildish Board President Dan Egan said. “In our search for a new general manager, the board wanted to identify a leader who is enthusiastic about the future and creative about bringing acts and audiences to the Wildish. We are confident that we have found those skills in our new GM.”

The site of the Wildish, formerly the McKenzie Theater, lay dormant and unused for many years, until the Springfield Renaissance Development Corporation decided to transform the space. In 2006, after much work, community collaboration, and financial support from the Wildish family, the theater opened its doors. Today, the 283-seat facility is home to five permanent companies: Chamber Music Amici, Rose Children’s Theatre, Swing Shift Jazz Orchestra, Riverside Chamber Symphony, All That! Dance, and the Academy of Ballet Fantastique.

In true community theater fashion, the Wildish is available for nearly every type of performance or event. “We cater to almost anything that needs a quality stage,” Hopper-Moore said. “Recently, I even had a family contact me about having their sons play the concert piano for their extended family.”

The renovation of the Wildish was also part of an overall community development program for Springfield to incorporate key civic amenities with economic development.

“In community building, we must first consider what matters to people: how we can create a sense of belonging and connection. Through this lens we know we must hold space for arts and culture to thrive,” said Vonnie Mikkelsen, president and CEO of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. “The civic entrepreneurs behind our downtown cultural anchors like the Wildish Community Theater understood that. These anchors have in turn catalyzed pride in community and have attracted business and development by community-minded entrepreneurs.”

Hopper-Moore said he believes the community has and will continue to support the theater as we come out of the worst of the pandemic, and that such support will be a rising tide that helps all business boats in downtown Springfield.

“We have 19 nights already booked this coming December,” he told me. “Our vacancy rate, if you will, is really low, and we feel confident in the public’s desire for live theater. I believe the Willamette Valley is a cultural destination and the community really enjoys being able to see everything from Broadway shows to uniquely original productions.”

His vision moving forward is to continue to build out the full-year schedule for the Wildish and avoid dips in attendance that normally come in the summer. He also wants to create a truly robust cadre of donors and patrons who create a sustainable and prosperous future for the performing arts in Lane County.

As I left Hopper-Moore in the green room, I asked him what his favorite live theater memory was. After a quick minute of thought, he talked about going to see Phantom of the Opera in Portland on a first date with his now wife. “It was a magical night that really set the stage for our relationship. The role of a theater is to promote multiple human experiences, like a first date, and my job as GM is to support those who want to perform their art and those who want to see it.”