Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Susan Harper Returns to ACT

We open the new ACT blog on a Wednesday, and Wednesdays mean a Q & A session with one of the folks here at ACT -- staff member, show director, actor, volunteer -- who is making things happen at the theatre. Nope, we aren't trying to reproduce the Frost-Nixon interviews. These are breezy "get to know you" sessions. We toss softball questions and wait for home runs.

Susan Harper, ACT managing director, boldly volunteered to be our first interviewee. (How's that for leadership?) Susan came to ACT in the spring of 2003 and spent three year running the theatre. After a short stint away she returned as director this past July.

Susan has been busy preparing for Peter Pan, ACT's 2009-10 Mainstage premiere. But we caught up with her and promised a candy bar if she would answer our questions before the Wednesday Q & A deadline. She happily obliged:

So, how's it feel to be back at ACT?
Leaving ACT was a big mistake and I'm happy I was asked to return. It isn't often in life that you get to rectify a mistake.

What are some of your short and long terms goals for ACT?
Our short term goal is to produce excellent theatre this year and balance our budget in a challenging economy. To produce excellent theatre, we put together artistic teams of the highest quality and support their work. We pay the directors and designers of our shows to make sure the quality is high but also to ensure that the volunteers (actors and production crew) have an absolutely stellar experience. To balance the budget we have to hit our ticket projections and keep expenses at or below our projections.

Long term, our goal is to secure this organization for the future with adequate facility reserves (to keep our building in good shape), cash reserves, and an appropriately sized endowment to provide us with earned income to support our work.

Tell us something special about ACT we may not know?
ACT is the oldest continuously operating theatre in Asheville, and one of the oldest in the country. All of our actors are volunteers; they have day jobs like being a dentist or running a bed and breakfast, teaching school or working in a deli.

You've just stepped in as managing director, and you are about to put on the biggest show in ACT history. How's Peter Pan coming along?
Peter Pan is a monster show! On every level. But director Jerry Crouch has it totally in hand and has made sure that it is a wonderful experience for all the actors. I'm very impressed with his work.

I know you were on the set painting last week. Is it safe to say you're a "hands on" director?
Everyone here does what it takes to get the job done. Generally I work up front, but in a crunch I'm happy to pick up a paint brush.

How does ACT set its season performance lineup?
We have an Artistic Selection Committee that meets in the fall to develop our season, both for the Mainstage and 35below.

You must have some history with acting/performing. Any good stories from your past?
I was in a play in high school but have totally blocked the experience from my mind. I have no desire to be on stage. My job is to make sure others have that experience. But I did play the violin as a child and I thought I was quite good, but I've been told after the fact that I was quite horrible.

So we shouldn't expect to see you on the ACT Mainstage anytime soon? Diva*licious perhaps?
You'll get all you want of me doing curtain speeches during the year. I guarantee you I won't be vying for time on the stage.

So, what type of candy bar to you want?
A Milky Way!

(Coming tomorrow: A video sneak peak of Peter Pan, taken at Wednesday night's "Family and Friends" performance.)

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