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Riggan Goes from Opry Office to Nashville Stages

NASHVILLE, TENN. — From actor and entrepreneur to producer and playwright, from North Carolina and Nashville to — this summer — Brisbane, Australia, 31-year-old Kaine Riggan has proven himself to be quite the journeyman. A native of Henderson, N.C., Riggan came to Nashville at 19 to fulfill the dream of many who venture here. "I wanted to be a country music singer," he says. "I even got a job in the Grand Ole Opry office when I got here. I thought that was really cool."

But an onstage experience soon took Riggan down a different path. He had appeared in a production of the musical Smoke on the Mountain at Raleigh Little Theatre in North Carolina, and when a new production of the show at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium (former home of the Opry) was being cast in 1997, he successfully auditioned.

Smoke on the Mountain, Riggan says, is "different from most musicals, where you might need an actor-singer-dancer combination. They needed an actor-singer-musician who could play bluegrass instruments. I think they cast me just because I could play the guitar." Still, that production led to a five-year national tour, and for Riggan, the theatre bug had bitten.

Upon returning to Nashville, he served in a volunteer capacity as executive director of Circle Players, Nashville's oldest community theatre, founded in 1949. Then he worked for a year as director of performing arts for the Tennessee Arts Commission, which made him responsible for allocating $3 million to music, dance, and theatre organizations statewide. And he was also soon volunteering his time directing productions at the Donelson Senior Center for the Arts.

Today, not only is Riggan the producing director of the center — for which he has written and produced several original works, including Could It Be Love?, a musical that featured country music stars Helen Cornelius and Jeannie Seely — but he is company manager of Nashville Stages, which mounts tours of shows such as Always, Patsy Cline and Nuncrackers. In addition, the company generates a weekly e-zine about theatre in Tennessee that's distributed to thousands of subscribers.

Under the Nashville Stages banner, Riggan also wrote and directed a series of theatrical "episodes" set backstage at a drag show. Called Sitcom, it played to large audiences last year at Nashville's Play Dance Bar and is the show that Riggan has taken to Brisbane, where it is in the middle of a six-week run.

"I decided to swap homes temporarily with a couple from there who want to come to Nashville," Riggan says. "I didn't want to sit around doing nothing for six weeks, so I arranged to direct it with Brisbane actors in a local club there."

Such a proactive move surprises no one who has worked with Riggan. "I'm always interested to see what he has up his sleeve," says local actor Danny Proctor, who appeared in both Sitcom and Could It Be Love? "He's always thinking more than six months ahead."

Where does Riggan go from here? "I'm always working on new material," he says. "It keeps me focused and excited about the future. Hopefully, it'll be the kind of material that audiences respond to. That's the performer in me: I want to please them." One suspects that he will.

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