Local leading lady Susan Riddiford-Shedd takes acting to the next stage

Penn State alumna, avid advocate of the arts and local Shakespeare enthusiast Susan Riddiford-Shedd is truly a Happy Valley treasure. A gem of an actress, she is a driven, strong-willed, forward-thinking, red-blooded American woman, ever ready to preach the eternal word of the fallen bard. She’s a teacher, role-model and a born leader at the top her game, constantly making our community better through her artistic involvement.

Riddiford-Shedd returned to the State College area from Seattle 12 years ago to be closer to her family but made a point to continue her career as an actress. She said she has no regrets on returning to central Pennsylvania.

“When you are a theater artist, no matter where you are, you make noise,” she said. “You keep doing the work because it is what you do, what you are passionate about. It’s how you fit into the world and the way you are blessed to be able to give back. “

Riddiford-Shedd is adding to her body of work by portraying the title role in Next Stage’s production of “Harper Regan.” The show follows a middle-aged modern woman who, after learning that her father is dying, is given no choice but to quit her job and find herself, while saying goodbye to him.

Having recently lost her father herself, this is an important, emotionally charged performance for Riddiford-Shedd, one that shouldn’t be missed. As the content is very close to home for her state of mourning, it’s easy to imagine that some of her emotions during the play are absolutely genuine.

Theatrical past

Originally a parks and recreation major, fate had different plans for Riddiford-Shedd, when her college roommate suggested she run sound for a school production of “Cinderella.” She agreed, but when the lead became sick, Riddiford-Shedd found herself cast as a step-sister in the show. It was at this time she discovered acting to be ideal way to get through college. Coming from a theatrical family, a love of Shakespeare and the performing arts was cemented at an early age, thus this became the obvious choice.

Riddiford-Shedd now is a seasoned thespian veteran with an extensive background of experience. A member of the Actor’s Equity Association, she’s played on Broadway in Tony Award-nominated productions. She’s donned many guises, portraying roles most actresses could only ever dream of. Among the characters she has brought to life with her expertise are Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” directed by Charles Dumas; Cleopatra in “Anthony and Cleopatra” for the Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival; Titania in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the Bellevue Repertory Theatre, in Bellevue, Wash.; Maggie in “Lend me a Tenor” for Portland Rep; and Desdemona in “Othello” for the Seattle Shakespeare Company, to name a few.

“Susan is one of the hardest working, most talented actors that I have been blessed to work with,” Dumas said. “My only regret is that her commitment to bring quality theater to Happy Valley has hampered her efforts to be on the stage instead of behind it.”

Returning to her roots

Upon her return to State College, she quickly fell in with the theater crowd.

“I made my own fun with Nittany Valley Shakespeare Company, and others have benefited from it, too,” she said. “It used to be the university was the only theater presence in town. That’s changed and it will continue to do so as we grow, which is lovely for everyone.”

Riddiford-Shedd co-founded the Seattle Shakespeare Company (now in its 23rd season) and is the founder and co-artistic director of the region’s Nittany Valley Shakespeare Company, which is preparing to celebrate its sixth season. It is with the latter that Riddiford-Shedd is an active participant as a teacher as well. Though she has taught acting classes and workshops, her current educational undertaking, “Camp Bill,” is an NVSC’s afterschool/summer program.

“When it comes to a love of Shakespeare and desire to bring others into that love, Susan is a force of nature,” said Jason Zanitsch, an instructor at “Camp Bill.” “Her absolute glee at seeing the really young students at ‘Camp Bill’ performing Shakespeare’s words at their final performance was inspiring. From the germ of an idea, she revived the Nittany Valley Shakespeare Festival and transformed it into a yearlong company.”

Next step: Next Stage

Riddiford-Shedd is a regular with the Next Stage. She’s starred as Rita in the production of “Educating Rita,” and she directed two of the Next Stage’s self-proclaimed favorite productions, “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast” and “Talley’s Folly.”

“As a director, she has an exceptionally fertile theatrical imagination and an uncanny ability to communicate with actors both verbally and in subtler ways,” said Next Stage producing and artistic co-director J.D. Schucter. “As an actress, she’s a magnetic presence on stage; she is thoroughly professional, thoughtful, generous and cooperative. We feel very fortunate that she continues to be willing to work with us.”

“Harper Regan” was set to hit the stage a year ago but was delayed when the director preferred to wait rather than to do it without Riddiford-Shedd as his leading lady.

“Harper Regan” director “Rob Schneider directed Susan in our production of ‘Orson’s Shadow’ in 2011m” Shucter said. “He realized how powerful she is on stage, and so, when we engaged him to direct ‘Harper Regan,’ he said he would do it only if she would play Harper,” Schucter said.

Riddiford-Shedd said she would do the show if Schneider directed. Befcause of scheduling personal conflicts, Next Stage put it on hold and rescheduled it for this year.

“The rest of the cast stayed with us, Susan handled her business, and here we go,” Schucter said.