Hailey’s Company of Fools artistic director dies at 55

John Glenn in a Company of Fools’ production of “Vanya, Sonia, Masha , Spike” in 2015.
John Glenn in a Company of Fools’ production of “Vanya, Sonia, Masha , Spike” in 2015. Provided by Company of Fools

Actor, director and community advocate John Glenn died suddenly on Friday in a Boise hospital from complications after back surgery. He was 55.

Glenn moved to Hailey in 2000 to help run Company of Fools, a theater company that moved to Idaho from Virginia, with longtime friends and colleagues Denise Simone, Rusty Wilson and Glenn’s longtime partner and husband R.L. Rowsey.

They came at the request of Simone’s friends — Bruce Willis and Demi Moore — to take over the Liberty Theatre, a one-time movie house, and convert it into a stage for live performance.

These savvy theater artists turned what could have been their biggest weakness — living in a small town — into their greatest strength by going deeper into the roots of their community rather than seeking a larger audience. Together, they built Company of Fools into one of the strongest performing troupes in the region.

There had been many changes over the years. Wilson left in the mid-2000s, and Rowsey retired a few years ago. The company merged with the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in 2013. Last year, Willis and Moore deeded the theater to the company, Simone stepped away and relocated to Boise and Glenn took over sole artistic direction.

The future of the company, which produces a full season of theater at the Liberty and many educational programs throughout the Wood River Valley, is secure, says Sun Valley Center Artistic Director Christine Davis-Jeffers.

“One of the main reasons for the merger was to help the Fools last beyond its founders,” Davis-Jeffers says. “When we received the gift of the Liberty last year, we were committed to continuing the company in our community.”

The company always had an untraditional structure with core artists making artistic decisions and collaborating on the administration, rather than a linear structure headed by one artistic director. So, what the new iteration of Company of Fools will look like is under discussion, she says.

In the meantime, new associate artistic director Ilana Becker worked closely with Glenn over the past eight months and will helm the Fools’ upcoming production of Aaron Posner’s “Life Sucks,” with Glenn’s vision in mind.

“We had a meeting with the cast to decide if we could make this happen, so we can honor our friend John,” Davis-Jeffers says.

The company has been devastated, she says.

“It’s been hard for people to get out of bed in the mornings,” she says. “But the show must go on, and it’s not a cliche. Theater brings people together and can help a community heal. It’s really remarkable how expansive his reach was. He just had a way of reaching people and affecting them in such a positive way.”

The opening of the production was scheduled for late June and will be delayed until mid-July. Check CompanyOfFools.org for details.

Hailey is in south-central Idaho in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area.

Company of Fools received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2004. Simone received an individual Governor’s Award for Excellence in 2014, and Glenn received an individual Governor’s Award in 2016.