Emily Fournier, left, with her mother, Lyn Rowden, was a founder and the executive director of central Maine's Recycled Shakespeare Co. Fournier died Saturday while rafting the Kennebec River. Credit: Courtesy of the Recycled Shakespeare Co.

A Fairfield woman who died Saturday while on a whitewater rafting trip on the Kennebec River was a founder of an innovative central Maine theater group that aimed to bring Shakespeare to everyone.

Emily Fournier, 32, was a founder and the executive director of Fairfield-based Recycled Shakespeare Co. Ryan Toothaker, the president of the company’s board of directors, said Sunday that Fournier was a bright light who was passionate about the group’s mission of radical inclusivity in a theater world that can sometimes feel exclusive.

“She was vibrant. She was one of the most loving and accepting and kind people I’ve ever known,” said Toothaker, who met her when they were both students at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. “She really was a driving force in everything we did. … If you were somebody who had a severe disability, and usually theater was inaccessible to you, we would make that happen.”

Fournier and her family members founded the company in 2013, with the goal of using as little money as possible to make great theater. They recycled costumes, sets and materials, chose royalty-free productions and relied on local theater enthusiasts to bring the words of William Shakespeare — and a few other long-ago playwrights — to life.

Her death was a shock and a blow to the theater company, which said in a Facebook post that Fournier was OK after she had initially been thrown from the raft, but drowned after trying to help someone else.

“We are devastated beyond words,” the post said. “Emily has always been so grand, so interwoven in all we do. There is nothing for us left now but dissolving into thin air in agonizing grief.”

Fournier had been invited to fly to London this year to present a paper on the Recycled Shakespeare Co.’s ecofriendly practices at a conference at the Globe Theater, Toothaker said, but the coronavirus pandemic stopped that. Instead, her paper was to be included in a book printed in collaboration with the Globe4Globe conference about the relationship between Shakespeare’s works and the climate crisis.

He said he will remember her as a person whose love for Shakespeare and theater were infectious. The first time he was part of a performance by the Recycled Shakespeare Co., it was all her idea.

“I’ll never forget,” he said. “Emily grabbed me out of the audience at intermission, threw me in a costume and told me all I had to do was wave my arms around and shout ‘Macbeth!’ in an angry voice.”

Somehow, it worked — and he got hooked.

“It wasn’t necessarily about how professional you were in that part. It was about the experience,” Toothaker said. “I have enjoyed every play.”

Fournier, who had a day job working at the Turner Family Counseling Center at the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville, is survived by her husband, Josh Fournier; parents Lyn and Joe Rowden; brother Aaron Rowden; and other family members.

Correction: An earlier version of this report contained an incorrect age for Emily Fournier.