Liberty Theater to anoint new manager Wednesday

Reid Helford, dressed as a king, will give his scepter to Kirsten Schober, dressed as a queen.

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DAYTON - Liberty Theater manager Reid Helford and his successor, Kirsten Schober, plan to have a costumed ceremony for the passing of the scepter as part of the farewell celebration for Helford on Wednesday.

Helford, who has managed the theater for three years, announced earlier this year he wanted to resign. The Touchet Valley Arts Council board searched for a replacement, hiring Schober, who has been executive director of the Kirkman House Museum in Walla Walla since 2004.

Helford said he and Schober will wear king and queen costumes, and he will pass the scepter to her.

During April, Schober has been working with Helford to "learn the ropes," although the Liberty is not the first theater she has managed.

"Many years ago" she managed a theater in Seattle, and "continued to dabble with the Egyptian Theater" after she left the manager position, she said.

For both managers, the change has come about in part because of their children.

For Helford, whose two children attend school in Walla Walla, it means he will be able to spend more time with them, including having weekends free for camping trips and other adventures.

For Schober, her only child left for college last fall, leaving her feeling a need for a change of direction.

Her mother spotted the ad for the theater manager position, and Schober, who has been helping with Walla Walla High School drama productions, decided to apply.

"It was sort of a serendipitous thing. I saw the deadline was the next day, and I just sort of jumped for it," she said.

Although Schober's career change was somewhat sudden, the museum board of directors "know my heart will always be here, but they are also supportive of me having a new adventure," she said.

"I'm very sentimental about the museum and the things we've done here, but I've done what I set out to do, and now it is time to let someone new come in." Schober said.

Helford holds a doctorate degree in sociology, and said, "I'm going to try to hustle up my own independent career."

He plans to use his new-found time to focus on some writing projects that have been on hold and to pursue some speaking engagements. He will also continue teaching at the Washington State Penitentiary.

Helford said one of the things he will miss most at the theater is introducing films.

"I'll really miss that part, being on stage," he said.

Sometimes, Helford's introductions were made while wearing a costume to match the theme of the movie. He wore a cowboy outfit, complete with chaps and 10-gallon hat, for the showing of "True Grit." He has been dressed as Rocky Balboa, a dog, the Mad Hatter and a robot.

Schober plans to continue the tradition with the help of theater costumer Mary Luce.

"I think it will be fun," she said.

Schober praised Helford for the things he has implemented.

"I really do love the things that Reid has brought to the theater. It's kind of nice to walk into a situation where you don't feel like you have to immediately transform the place," she said.

Among changes during the past three years is the acquisition of the theater annex, expanding space for rehearsals, costume storage and providing a space for meetings and social gatherings.

The current project is a campaign to raise $125,000 to purchase a digital projector, essential if the theater is going to continue to show first-run films.

"It's a really, really difficult time in the movie industry," Helford said. Movie theaters have seen a 25 to 30 percent drop in attendance as audiences move to Net Flix, Internet streaming and other ways to access films.

As a community theater with the capacity for live productions, the Liberty Theater has carved a companion niche that helps ward off a downturn in the national trend for moviegoers.

Helford leaves the theater with a lot of memories, some a little on the sticky side.

"There's some things I won't miss, like cleaning up pop spills," he said.

He also will take some awards earned along the way. He was named Manager of the Month by the national publication "Box Office Magazine." He was also named 2010 Employee of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce.

"I'm proud of what I've done here," he said.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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