Northland News

At Vaud-Villities, a changing of the guard as Auch retires

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Longtime Vaud-Villities artistic director Toni Auch is retiring from the post she has held since 1998. Russ Coffman (right), is the group's new managing director.
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While instructing teachers in pre-Castro Cuba, Toni Auch faced some challenges.

"My Spanish was not so good, their English was not so good, so we kind of pieced it together and got through," Auch said last week.

But the teachers were genuinely enthused about what they were doing, and that made all the difference.

As the longtime artistic director for Vaud-Villities, Auch no doubt often faced similar challenges in dealing with primarily amateur singers and dancers performing with the venerable homegrown troupe.

But where the resident of the Northwest Side near Upper Arlington encountered genuine enthusiasm, things got pieced together and they all got through.

Now, Vaud-Villities is going to figure out how to get through without Toni Auch.

After serving as artistic director since 1998 -- she had the title of managing director for the four years prior to that -- Auch, 80, has announced her retirement.

Replacing her won't be easy, and it also won't be the task of a single individual, according to Russ Coffman. The Hilliard resident, who has been with Vaud-Villities for 14 years and whose father was involved back in the 1970s, is the new managing director.

"To try to fill Toni's shoes would be pretty much an impossible task for one person," he said. "We've got kind of a team approach."

That team will include Bob Potts as technical director, Everette Fridenmaker as prop master, dance coordinators Maggie Ellison, Ashley Patterson and Christie Hall; and Sheri Brock and C.J. Curtis, costumes and children performers.

Their duty, Coffman said, will be "trying to make sure the magic happens."

The first production put on by the new team will take place April 4-7 at the Northland Performing Arts Center on Tamarack Boulevard.

The concept for the 2013 show will be "A Night at the Toni's," to pay tribute to Auch, who began as a performer with the troupe in 1970 and has been a part of the productions that originated in 1943 at what was then Upper Arlington High School.

"I suspect other people in the group are saying, 'why wasn't it before?' because it does add up to a lot of years," Auch said. "I just think there are some other things I should give some attention to, like family."

Auch said she and her husband, Stephen, have two grandchildren approaching college age but another only 3 1/2 years old.

"I had some help years ago raising our four sons and I should be available to do that for them," Auch said. "It isn't another major project in the community. I've told the Vaud-Villities people that I'd help when I could and I told Russ I was as close as the telephone.

"I really think he's got such a great attitude, he'll be fine."

Although her mother was dancer in Vaudeville back in Baltimore, appearing on the same stage as Jimmy Stewart and other big names of the era, Auch credits her days at South High School with instilling in her a lifelong interest in theater.

"We did ambitious plays, and the school was known at that time for presenting really good theater, so I had opportunities for good teaching and practice," she said.

At Ohio State University, where she was on the cheerleading squad, Auch earned a bachelor's degree in theater and speech and went on to earn a master's in psychology. After serving for a time as dean of women at OSU, Auch moved to Flint, Mich., and taught high school English and speech. Her theater ambitions ran into some difficulties when none of the boys would audition for parts in a play -- until she managed to convince the captain of the football team to try out, Auch recalled.

"It was great to see them develop a kind of self-assurance from doing this kind of exercise," Auch said.

And, she added, it's been great to see the same thing with Vaud-Villities.

"You just don't look at the final product," Auch said. "You look at what it took to get there. We have really good people who have experience, either in their school training or later ... they're actually in a job that requires them to use the skills that they have developed through the years. We benefit from that. That's huge.

"I'd say the top of the list wasn't so much the actual results, but the people."

"She's an icon in the community," Coffman said.

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