Executive Director, Asheville Community Theatre
If you have had the opportunity to see a production at Asheville Community Theatre (ACT), then you have more than likely seen Susan Harper. Perhaps when she is in the lobby during intermission mingling with guests, or when she takes the stage to welcome those in attendance.
Harper grew up in the Midwest and has an undergraduate degree in art education and a graduate degree in supervision and administration. She has been with ACT for 12 years and previously taught visual art (K-12) for many years, additionally working for a multi-discipline arts center and at the South Carolina Arts Commission.
“I choose to work for a nonprofit because I love the fact that it is our job to make our community a better place—and the work is fun,” she says Harper. “We get to tell stories for a living. Sometimes that is just fun. Other times, our work helps make meaning of the world we live in—and we think that is important work. We foster creativity and bring artists of various disciplines together to collaborate in the telling of a story.
“I love the team leading this nonprofit and I consider it a gift to be a part of that team. To a person—board members and staff—everyone is passionate about the importance of allowing community members to participate in the arts. ACT has played that role for 71 years, and a strong focus of this current team is to secure ACT for the future.”
Harper’s father has had an enormous influence on her and her siblings. “We were lucky to be raised by one of the ‘Greatest Generation’—a group that asked not what could be done for them but what they could do for others,” she says. “My father taught us values and attitudes that have held us in good stead. I have great admiration for the life he lived and the choices he made.”
Keeping it “all in balance” is important to her. She enjoys spending time with her husband, friends, and family, and reading on her screened porch with her dogs by her side. Meanwhile, at ACT she is balancing the varied needs of the organization and their many stakeholder groups.
“I choose to work for a nonprofit because I love the fact that it is our job to make our community a better place—and the work is fun.”
“Our stakeholders are varied—from a troupe of about 100 seniors (The Autumn Players) to the families of the children who participate in our programming,” says Harper. “We have the Mainstage audience members, who love our big musicals and classic dramas, and the audience members, who attend the edgier work in 35below (our current black box). Another group of stakeholders are the actors and actresses, who produce the work we’re known for. Another group are the artists we hire to lead the artistic process for our plays and musicals. Staff and board members are certainly stakeholders.
“We serve all ages—children through seniors—and our robust programming creates some serious scheduling challenges,” she says. “We’re in a capital campaign to raise funds to expand our programming space. At this point, our programs are limited by our facilities.”
The first phase of the capital campaign was a major renovation of current space, completed on time and on budget this past summer. Fundraising is in progress for the second phase of the campaign, which is a new construction of about 10,000 square feet of programming space. It will include education space for classes and rehearsals and a new black box theatre. Groundbreaking is planned for the fall of 2018.
Harper is moved by how seriously children and teens in ACT programs take their roles. She shares a story of an opening night for a teen production where the music, which was on computer, stopped. That didn’t throw the teens at all: They finished the show a capella.
“It is most rewarding to see how members of a cast and crew bond over the experience of being in a play. Over a period of eight to ten weeks, strong friendships are forged and the shared experience provides for lifelong friendships.”
To provide entertainment, enrichment, and education
through the practice and celebration of the theatre arts.
Number served annually
In 2014 we served 37,000 people
how do you get funding?
85% of our operating budget is earned.
The rest comes from sponsorships and donations.
Year nonprofit was founded?
List of board members with titles
President: McRae Hilliard
Vice President: Betty Doll
Treasurer: Bray Creech
Past President: Susan Maley
Fundraiser: Honor Moor
Brenda Lunsford Lilly
Box Office Manager:
Costume Shop Manager: Carina Lopez
Special Events: Jerry Crouch
Weekend Box Office Manager:
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