Just as 2014 was coming to a close, NH’s theatre family lost a dear friend named Kevin Riley. He was a friend of mine too. Not a close one, but a guy I was glad to know. I never heard him speak an unkind word about anyone — and in the ego-driven world of theatre, that’s rare.
Long ago, Kevin was one of a small group of theatre folk who assisted as New Hampshire Magazine and the Palace Theatre partnered to create the New Hampshire Theatre Awards. I was co-directing the NHTA back then along with Matty Gregg, who worked IT for the magazine and acted in local plays but was on his way to a career with Apple Computers.
Forming a committee and creating a statewide adjudication system for professional and community theatre was a challenge, but it was having the nerve to go out on stage at a gala event and declare who was the year’s best actor, director or set designer that got more than a few Shakespearean breeches in a twist.
Who, exactly, did we think we were?
Fortunately for us all, Kevin Riley was willing to take a leadership role on the operations committee for the NHTA. He was a long-time actor, director, producer and president of the Nashua Theatre Guild, but was just as likely to be found working a concession table or cleaning up after a show. With a guy like that we had some credibility with the rank and file of the local theatre community. The NHTA adjudication system has been improved quite a bit since those early days, but even when Kevin knew the flaws up close he was a stalwart supporter. He knew that ordinary, everyday theatre in New Hampshire contained all the elements of greatness, it just needed an awards night to prove it.
This year’s New Hampshire Theatre Awards was still being planned when I sat down to write this note and the news of Kevin’s untimely death was still fresh, so I’m not sure how the event honored him. I just know that he would want whatever accolades he received to be shared with everyone — the many casts and crews of the local theatre scenes of NH. Kevin knew there are no small roles and everyone from the ushers to the ingenue and leading man are really parts of a greater whole that none could achieve without the others.
In an obituary Kevin’s good friend, award-winning playwright Lowell Williams, wrote: “There’s no family like a group of actors. They are bolted together by the precarious notion of theater. A strange idea, when you think about it: Standing on a stage and reciting centuries-old lines heard tens of thousands of times … The play itself is fleeting, and once the set is struck, only memories, photos and the shared bond of a cast and crew remains. There’s nothing quite like it.”
And there was no one quite like Kevin Riley. He was your ordinary, everyday thespian who contained all the elements of greatness. And his final bow and exit from the stage, while sad, is a reminder of that greatest of theatrical imperatives: “The show must go on.”