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Sun Valley's Most Influential Leaders

(page 4 of 8)

The Little Surprise on Main Street

Denise Simone and the Company of Fools 


Denise Simone of the Company of Fools. Photo by Kirsten Shultz.

There are nearly 2,400 miles between Hailey, Idaho, and Richmond, Virginia, where Denise Simone and a small group of passionate actors and directors founded the Company of Fools (COF) theatre group in 1992. But in 1996, at the encouragement of an old high school friend named Bruce Willis, co-founders Simone and Rusty Wilson headed west and relocated the COF in Hailey, where it took up its new residence in the Liberty Theatre.

Simone admits that, at first, she wasn’t sure about making the move to Idaho, but today she feels blessed to live in a community that has completely embraced and supported the COF for nearly two decades now.

Coming from a family who placed a deep, almost reverential value on the arts helped Simone to develop her love of theatre early. Since her career began in 1981, Simone has performed in approximately 65 different plays and has had four of her own plays produced in the United States. As an actor, she has immersed herself in a wide range of performances including the demanding one-woman show, “The Syringa Tree,” which required her to play 32 different roles of both genders, various races and ages ranging from 7 to 98.

Simone also wears the hat of director, administrator, teacher and fundraiser. She has served on the Idaho Commission on the Arts and on the board of directors for the  Wood River Arts Alliance.

Each season, the group produces five different shows and pulls professional actors in from all over the country to work alongside its core group of local actors. “Some people who come to our performances don’t expect a professional theatre company to be here,” she said. “We’re the little surprise on Main Street.”

The company is also committed to theatre education for youth and adults. One of its programs, "Stages of Wonder," uses theatre to help children in grades one through five explore their own creativity. The program is now in its 17th year.

The COF has been well-recognized for its work both onstage and off. In 2000, it became the first theatre in Idaho's history to receive Constituent Theatre status from the Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for the professional, non-profit American theatre. In 2004, the company was a recipient of the Idaho Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, and in 2009 it was awarded Arts Advocate of the Year by the Sun Valley/Ketchum and Hailey Chambers of Commerce.

“We try to connect everything, listen to patrons and interact with them so we’re not creating in a bubble. We’re creating as part of a community,” she said. “The only way the arts can truly survive in our small town is if our community truly embraces it and, indeed, it has over the past 18 years. We’ve been very blessed that way.” 




Nadja Hirner and the Sun Valley Ballet School. When she was a child growing up in Austria, Nadja Hirner wanted more than anything to dance ballet like her mother. But with no ballet school in her small town of Kufstein, she never had the opportunity. Instead, she went to fashion design school and became a professional tailor.

Hirner moved to Sun Valley in 1982, working first as a nanny and then doing tailoring and alterations. In 1990, she began volunteering with the Sun Valley Ballet School (SVBS) and with her background in design and tailoring, she soon became the school’s costume coordinator. From scratch, she created all the dancers’ costumes, some of which can take two to three weeks to complete. In 2002, she became the school’s director.

Established in 1978, SVBS offers dance education and performance training to between 120 and 140 dance students ranging in age from 3 to 18. Approximately 40% of the students receive scholarship funding from the school.

Every December, dance students ages 4 and up perform a full-length ballet. The school also produces a free Biennial Children’s Series for all elementary school children in Blaine County and an annual Spring Showcase, which gives dancers an opportunity to perform other genres such as jazz, modern and hip hop.



The Sun Valley Ice Show began modestly in 1937 on a small, outdoor sheet of ice on the grounds of the Sun Valley Lodge. Today, it has grown into a dazzling summertime event that showcases the world’s greatest skating champions and Olympic medalists. Spectators may enjoy the show from either the Lodge terrace or in rinkside seating under the starry summer sky. - Patti Murphy



From Sun Valley’s glamorous opening in 1936, when movie stars like Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable attended, to today, Sun Valley’s had a long connection with Hollywood.

Besides the overall class and user-friendly mountains that mark this little slice of heaven, part of Sun Valley’s appeal for celebrities is how they get treated around here: Just like everyone else. Everyone who loves Sun Valley is, after all, pretty awesome in his or her own way, anyway.

That’s why we don’t gawk, harass or get star-struck—with the exception of whenever our editor sees Jamie Lee Curtis!
It’s tough to say exactly why so many celebrities love Sun Valley. But Drew Barrymore, Clint Eastwood (who has said, “I love Sun Valley Magazine.”), Mariel Hemingway, Bobby Farrelly, Demi Moore and Tom Hanks, to name-drop a few, must fall in love with Sun Valley for the same reason the rest of us do. There’s just something magical about this place.

Jodi Foster may have summed it up best when she spoke at a fundraiser for the Company of Fools: “Can I just say I love Idaho. There’s just something so touching about this community. So I keep coming back … it’s just a special place!”



Genevieve Cortese (now Padalecki) of Sun Valley, Idaho!We know starlet Genevieve Cortese (now Padalecki) from growing up in Sun Valley and attending the local Community School before heading off to New York to pursue a career in acting. But most others know her from the big screen—either the popular ABC series “Wildfire,” “Supernatural” and “FlashForward” or her recent film, “Hated.” In 2010, she came home to Sun Valley to have “the perfect winter wedding” with her beau, Jared Padalecki, star of the CW’s “Supernatural,” “Gilmore Girls,” and the films “House of Wax” and a 2009 remake of “Friday the 13th.” They now have two children together and live in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Tara Buck of Hailey, Idaho, now a Hollywood star in hit shows like HBO's True Blood!Idaho-born Tara Buck went from Hailey's Wood River High School, under acting teacher Bob Kesting, to Hollywood in no time flat. Before attending the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts and landing a recurring television role on the popular series “Party of Five,” Tara worked summers as a lifeguard at the Elkhorn Pool. Today, she is better known for her role as the barmaid “Ginger” in HBO’s hit show “True Blood,” but she is no stranger to independent films, starring opposite Willem Dafoe, Stephen Dorff and Michelle Monaghan. She and her husband now live in L.A. and co-own a boutique California wine label called "Ledbetter."



With a mission to support “educational, multicultural, philanthropic and community events,” the nexStage Theatre has been one of Ketchum’s main performing arts centers since 1992. A non-profit organization, they host music, dance and theater performances, as well as educational dramatic arts classes year-round. Home to the Sun Valley Shakespeare Festival and a three-week Summer Performing Arts Camp in July, the nexStage annually attracts over 30,000 local residents to plays, concerts, workshops and recitals. Additionally, over 500 students take advantage of the art-related scholarships, opportunities and quality after-school programs every year.

The Liberty Theatre on Main Street in Hailey has quite a history. What started as a 1930's movie house was then purchased by superstar Bruce Willis, renovated in 1996 and now serves as home to Idaho’s award-winning Company of Fools Theatre Group. Denise Simone and partner Rusty Wilson first re-opened the theatre with “Diary of a Mad Man,” which cost $5, followed by Sam Shepard’s play, “Fool for Love,” which starred Willis himself. 


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