Ron Anderson talks a lot about things that just “make sense.”
The associate artistic director at the Springer Opera House and director of its Theatre Academy and Children’s Theatre, Anderson talks about doing five children’s shows in the future, instead of three. He talks about Springer students writing and directing their own works. He talks about hiring an outreach director for the academy.
These things “make sense to me,” he said.
And so after 23 years leading one theater academy or another, and as his son prepares to graduate high school, Anderson said Wednesday that it makes sense to retire.
“You get to a certain age and it’s time to start thinking about transition,” Anderson, 62, said. “Because if you don’t, you’re not really helping the organization. ... The organization is going to move forward one way or another and it can do that smart or by default.”
It’s an idea that’s been seriously on his mind for about the last two years. It became official in the spring, but was kept mum to avoid distracting from the students.
Anderson’s retirement is daunting, in its way: he is the founder of the Springer’s theater academy, which has taught some 6,000 kids since its first classes in the summer of 1997.
He is also a longtime artistic leader for the theater company and his relationship with Springer head Paul Pierce goes back four decades.
But Anderson said now is the right time, when the theater is healthy and things are growing. Better to bring someone in with momentum than in on a down swing.
“It’s one of those moments in life where you are smart enough to recognize it and brave enough to claim it. We’re moving forward and this is how,” he said.
Anderson will step down next summer, after a final season with the academy. The Springer plans on hiring a new director in the fall, with an announcement in January and a few months training side-by-side with Anderson, from the spring into the middle of the summer.
It will be hard to imagine that the next academy director won’t come from within, though it’s not impossible, Anderson said. Both he and Pierce said they’ve had informal discussions with several members of the Springer family.
“Depending on the person, the academy (will go) in this direction or in this direction,” Anderson said. “Doesn’t matter. It’s going forward.”
He’ll still be available to guest direct, teach and advise at the Springer, but after 23 years as a theater educator Anderson said it’s time to focus on family.His son, Max, is a senior at Hardaway High School. Max has autism and Anderson said he needs to be there to help his son into the next phase of his life.
“What he needs is more of my time and not less of it,” Anderson said. “So that weighs heavily on me, that I need to be able to focus on him with the same energy and passion that I focus here. Because I don’t know how to do it at 50 percent and divide that up. I’m a 100 percent guy.”
Anderson and his wife, Debbie, the Springer’s musical director, have no plans to leave Columbus — though he’s less concrete about the future of longtime holiday favorite “Tuna Christmas,” in which he stars.
“All I can say is, if you haven’t seen it, you better come see it this December,” he said.
Pierce said the Springer will be looking for another artistic leader, that he’d love to have someone on staff with a background in musicals (which have become pillars of each season).
But that process is less urgent. Pierce compared it to being married — he knows he can be single, so he isn’t in a rush to find someone new.
What matters now is the academy, and preserving the Springer's core values while still growing. When Anderson was first hired, in 1996, he brought a motto with him from Milwaukee: “Life skills through stage skills.”
“Ron has rearranged the molecules of the Springer Opera House,” Pierce said.
And retirement is still a year away: before he cleans out his office, before he begins to seriously consider candidates for his replacement, Anderson has to direct this fall’s production of “Shrek.”
“What will I do is really not something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and it’s the worry that I have the least,” he said. “I’ll do things.”