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Spotlight on Philadelphia Director Susan Atkinson & The Bristol Riverside Theatre


Heashot of Susan Atkinson, Courtesy of Bristol Riverside TheatreTake a walk past the Victorian mansions that line Radcliffe Street with benches and a gazebo facing the Delaware River and you will be on the same street as the Bristol Riverside Theatre (BRT).

This once condemned former movie theater is the home of founding artistic director Susan Atkinson. Susan’s love and enthusiasm for the arts persuaded her to cast Broadway aside and launch her own theater group. For five years, her Bucks County Repertory Theatre performed in schools, churches and restaurants until the mid-1980s, when the Bristol-based Grundy Foundation invited them to take over the old movie theater, which had briefly been considered for demolition. 

Taking a walk down memory lane with Susan, she recalls way too many wonderful people that are part of her Bristol adventure to mention, but some outstanding talents include the late Douglas Campbell, known for his Shakespearean characters and a favorite in Bristol’s “The Dresser;” Stephen Schnetzer in his portrayal of Jake in Neil Simon’s “Jake’s Women,” presented in 2001 at the Bristol Riverside Theatre; Broadway performers and Bristol residents/husband and wife Brad Little and Barbara McCullough; Country Music star Larry Gatlin; Dave Gallo (Fences); Garson Cannan; and many, many more including her terrific team and staff at the Bristol.

“Bristol is a lovely historic town filled with wonderful restaurants and shops,” says Susan, “and it took us about three years to convince them [The Gundy Foundation], that a professional theater would enhance their town and bring a lot of attention to Bristol and I think we have proven that.” 

The Bristol Riverside Theatre has been nominated and awarded over 60 Barrymore awards, which completely supports Susan’s theory of “take a chance on this being a wonderful investment to your community.”  BRT received Barrymore Awards for the world premieres of Texas Flyer (original music) as well as The Balkan Women (best new play and direction). Bristol Riverside Theatre offers new works, premieres and classics all accompanied by a professional live orchestra. 

Susan shares, “I am always so impressed with the extraordinary talent we find for our productions. There are so many great featured performers, many who rarely if ever have worked together. But when these voices all harmonize so beautifully in an ensemble number as they have in our most recent production (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), it is just glorious.” 

Susan and her team planned several projects to integrate the community with the theater. When this plan was presented to the Pew Charitable Trusts, it simply took off.  By wisely choosing programming that is more cost effective, the BRT is now presenting children’s theater, workshops, summer and winter musicals and more. 

The rest of their Mainstage season includes ”Up,” a Philadelphia Area Premiere, “Closer Than Ever,” “I Am A Superhero,” “Low Hanging Stars,” “Honey Brown Eyes,” andCrossing Brooklyn.”

For tickets and more information about the Bristol Riverside Theatre call (215) 785-0100 or visit www.brtstage.org