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Ted and Jen Ryle, Olympia Family Theater

Ted and Jen Ryle. Photo credit: Ted Ryle

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Olympia Family Theater is a family affair in every possible meaning of the phrase. The company was co-founded by Jen Ryle, along with Samantha Chandler in 2006, and Ryle is the company's artistic director. Her husband, Ted, has written and co-written many OFT shows, including the original adaptation of Cinder Edna with music by Ted, Rich Sikorski, Miriam Sterlin and Ryle's daughter Mandy. He directed the world premiere of 3 Impossible Questions by local playwright Christian Carvajal and directed for the first Tales Told in Ten festival in 2016, and he has acted in more than 20 OFT productions.

"I grew up a theater kid," Jen Ryle said. She met Ted at an audition at Shoreline Community College. "After grad school, Ted and I moved to Olympia with our daughters where I was a stay-at-home mom and they attended Lincoln Elementary. I enrolled at Evergreen once my kiddos were all in grade school and that is where my vision for creating a theater for young audiences crystallized."

She graduated in June 2006, and they staged their first show, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, at the Midnight Sun in October of that year. "I directed the production. Samantha and my whole family were in the show (Ted and daughters Lu, Mandy and Alexa). That early, we had to rely on ourselves and our friends and families to fill many of our volunteer roles as actors and for help with costumes, sets, painting, hanging posters, and everything. ‘What a great show! It's too bad there is no way this can last' I remember hearing from one audience member who came to see the show with his wife and two children. Many years later, that same audience member's kiddos were enrolled in our education programs, acted on our mainstage, and he even served on our board of directors."

For eight seasons, OFT performed both in the South Puget Sound Community College and Washington Center Black Boxes, with a few shows at the Midnight Sun. In 2014, they got their own theater space in the old Capital Playhouse on Fourth Ave., downtown Olympia. "It is such a luxury to have costume and prop storage, a shop, and our theater all in one space," Jen said.

Their first show in their new home was the musical Busytown. They have now produced 63 mainstage shows, 27 at the current location. These include many adaptations of well-known children's classics with some of the area's best actors.

Jen was honored by Masterworks Choral Ensemble in their Salute to the Arts Award for outstanding contributions to the arts in our community. In the summer of 2018, the Washington Center honored Olympia Family Theater with its Achievement in the Arts award. 

"I've worked with the Ryles and OFT since 2008 in varied capacities: as an actor, OFT board member (then president), writer, director, and parent," Andy Gordon recalled. "I think they do an incredible job in the community, providing a place for families to experience and enjoy theater, and the educational opportunities that go along with that. As a director, I was very impressed with the company's commitment to collaboration and support of every production. Where I think they go above and beyond is their fostering of original local work. It's a joy to work with a company that's so committed to championing new material. As a creator, I couldn't be more grateful to OFT for their support. Jen's leadership in this regard has been amazing; new work can be risky, and she manages to both be supportive and maintain the high quality for all productions. Ted's a fellow creator, and I've always appreciated his support and willingness to collaborate."

Actor John Serembe, seen in The Wind in the Willows, said, "Jen and Ted Ryle have moved and inspired countless Olympia children, as well as those who perform on their stage."

The next show coming up at OFT is Number the Stars directed by OFT's co-founder Samantha Chandler.

NUMBER THE STARS, 7 p.m., Friday, and 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 31-Feb. 16, $15-$20, Olympia Family Theater, 612 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia, 360.570.1638,

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