Bristol Riverside Theatre Founding Director Susan D. Atkinson, who championed the metamorphosis of a derelict and dilapidated adult movie house into a professional theater company 33 years ago, is stepping down at the end of the 2019-2020 season, the theater announced today.
She and Artistic Director Keith Baker, who is also leaving, after 28 years with Bristol, are part of a generational shift of regional theater leadership happening locally and nationally.
In 1984, the Grundy Foundation acquired an adult movie theater in Bristol Borough, intending to close it. Atkinson persuaded the board to change its mind. In 1987, after extensive renovation, the theater opened, producing five shows yearly for 33 years.
Atkinson directed many of them, including the season’s opener, An Act of God, with In Living Color star Kim Wayans playing the role of God. It runs through Oct. 13.
“Theatre has been a tremendous influence all throughout my life, and I hope I’ve been able to share that joy,” Atkinson said in statement.
In his 28 years, Baker directed, sang and acted in more than 120 plays and musicals at the theater, along with steering its artistic vision. “My hope with each production has always been that the stage would reflect authenticity; that the audience would sense strongly that there was a mind, so to speak, behind the work,” he said in a statement.
Board chairman William Salerno said Bristol Riverside will conduct an extensive search for their replacements.