Company of Fools 

Theater pioneers

In 1996, the company mounted a production of John Patrick Shanley's "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" at Richmond's Empire Theater. That's when things got really interesting.

Bruce Willis, who studied theater with Simone in college in New Jersey, was in town filming "The Jackal," and he attended the production. Impressed, Willis invited Wilson and Simone to continue their work in Hailey, Idaho, where he and Demi Moore had purchased and renovated an old movie house. Recalls Wilson, "Bruce said, basically, 'Hey, I have a theater and you guys can use it.'"

Wilson, Simone and their 6-year-old daughter, Russell, packed up a U-Haul and headed west. In 1997, with Wilson as artistic director and Simone as associate artistic director, Company of Fools presented its first full season of programming in Hailey — including Sam Shepard's "Fool For Love," starring Bruce Willis.

Four years later, COF has produced more than 20 plays in Hailey and offers an array of theater classes to children and adults. "We're having a great time, and everything is just going so well," Wilson says. "And boy, we do have a passel of Richmond people here!"

Among the Richmond creative types who moved to Idaho are two original group members, John Glenn (production manager) and Joel Vilinsky (company member), as well as R.L. Rowsey (managing director), Dennis Rexroad (resident designer) and Laine Satterfield (marketing/development; company member). Simone and Wilson have invited other Richmonders out for specific projects or workshops, and the company has drawn frequently on the work of Richmond playwright Doug Jones.

"I really love where I am," Wilson says. "I love this environment, and I love being in a small town. … We continue to reap the blessings of being true to our work. We figured out early that if we stay true to that, and don't compromise it, good things happen. … And we have a community that loves us and appreciates what we do. I think it was just meant to be."

Willis continues his involvement with the company: He appeared in COF's "True West" last summer, and Wilson hopes he will do more. "Bruce is a part of what we do," he says. "He'll continue to work with us when his schedule permits and when the pieces are right. … It's truly a joyous thing for both him and us."

(For more information on the company, visit its Web site: www.companyoffools.org.) — Holly Timberline

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