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Published January 11th, 2016
New Town Hall Theatre Director is Experienced and Ambitious
Susan E. Evans stands in the lobby of Town Hall Theatre. Photo Sophie Braccini

Town Hall Theatre recruited a part-British lover of English language and literature, Susan E. Evans, to lead the next chapter of the history of the venerable local live theater company.
Evans is an experienced artistic director who has led multiple successful seasons in Bay Area theaters. At THT she want to strike a balance between challenging the audience and not pushing so far.
Evans came out to Berkeley from Atlanta in the 1980s to enroll in the American branch of the Drama Studio of London. After a few years trying to make it as an actress, she decided that directing, her first love since college, was her true nature and she has pursued it since in different local settings.
She was the artistic director at the Eastenders Repertory Company in Oakland in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There she started a one-act festival. "There were anywhere from six to 10 plays, on themes such as 100 years of short American plays, European one-acts, or political one-acts. We also did 106 years of comedies," she says.
She was very proud of this program as well as some world premieres that were staged at the Eastenders. Then she became the artistic director at the Douglas Morrison Theater in Hayward that is run by the local park district. This government work setting has plusses and minuses. "On the one end it is subsidized and has a beautiful facility," she says. "On the other hand, you are dealing with a board that's not theater-centric." She is proud of starting a reading series of newer plays in Hayward, a playwriting contest that was very popular and drew some 100 entries from all over the world and a storytelling series that she hopes to bring in Lafayette. "It's a fabulous thing. It is a very different style than acting and draws a different crowd," she says.
The recreation district made the financial decision to repurpose the facility. Evans is still an artistic consultant there, but she looked for a new opportunity. She had heard a lot about THT and knew several people involved, and reached out when she heard of the opening in Lafayette.
She says that THT may look like a small thing, but that it is not. "When you enter those lobby doors, you feel the welcoming and the energy of creativity here," she says. "Whatever is on stage, you want to support the theater and be a part of it." She also noted that since it started 75 years ago the theater has always produced important and thoughtful work. "And the other thing is the fantastic education program! What other place does 'The Pirates of Penzance' and the children dig it!" She says that she will discuss with Director of Education Ginny Wehrmeister about adding adult acting classes and hook the main stage a little more to the education program.
She also feels confident that the THT board is very committed and passionate, making sure that the institution stays fiscally balanced.
As she steps in, Evans is taking over from Suzy Shepard, who was interim director after Joel Roster left. Shepard will stay on board as community engagement specialist. Evans has worked with Shepard and managing director Dennis Markam to put her own touch on the coming season that had already been planned.
"We are looking at a theme that we are calling families-generations," she says, adding that one of the plays is from a Bay Area contemporary playwright. She wants to continue to challenge audiences but not alienate them, offering a palette of plays. She believes that theater is not just about sitting in your seat; live theater is about being impacted as an audience member. Evans is a fan of Brecht and Caryl Churchill, and loves plays that deal with language, but she says that she has to decide what is good in Lamorinda now. She adds that THT has been exploring musicals in recent years and she plan to continue this.
She believes that the Lamorinda audience is ready to hear different voices, and she wants to create balanced seasons with a variety of plays. On a personal note she'd love to feature Dario Fo, Eugäne Ionesco, Anton Chekhov, and her secret dream would be the creation of "Hamlet." In the meantime she is looking forward to "Smokey Joe's CafÇ" opening on March 4 that will explore blues and early rock and roll. More information is available at www.townhalltheatre.com.



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