Tucson, AZ--- The Invisible Theatre (IT) announced that Managing Artistic Director Susan Claassen (Suz) will pass “the torch” of Artistic Leadership to Betsy Kruse Craig, Associate Managing Artistic Director and “evolve” into emeritus in December 2024.

           

Claassen says of her beginnings, “Almost five decades ago I began my journey with The Invisible Theatre (IT), a time when women artistic leaders were in the minority. Sarah Bernhardt said, “Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.” My life is indeed “rich” because I have had the privilege of working with an unequaled “wealth” of talent from our marvelous staff, inspired board, thousands of amazing creative collaborators and the greatest audiences and patrons in the world. Being Managing Artistic Director has been a dream job, but I look forward to many new and exciting creative projects! However, I can remember, as if it were yesterday, my first experience with the Invisible Theatre. I had moved to Tucson in the early 1970’s and was working at Arizona Civic Theatre (now ATC). I met Molly (Mols) McKasson at an audition and we became fast friends. She told me about this new theatre group and asked if I would be interested in seeing what they were doing. I went with Mols to the first home of the Invisible Theatre at the Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Tucson. As I climbed the stairs, I heard and drank in the sights and sounds of art being created – dance, music, photography, theatre – it was a hotbed of creativity. I was elated with the vision of what art could be. I knew at that moment I wanted to be part of IT!”

           

For more than 50 years, Susan Claassen has transformed Tucsonans through the performing arts.  Under her guidance, the Invisible Theatre has delighted us, entertained and challenged us to expand our humanity.  She has uplifted diverse voices and brought awareness to important issues.  Susans lifes work is a gift to all of us.” -- Tucson MayorRegina Romero

 

Invisible Theatre (IT) gets its name from the invisible energy that flows between performers and audiences to create the magic of theatre. That magic has been deftly guided by the creative hands of Susan Claassen for 49 years. Attempting to capture 49 years of Susan Claassen’s work at IT and in Tucson is daunting. In those years, Suz has produced and directed more than 600 productions with more than 200 world premieres, creating thousands of performances and opportunities for over 1500 theatre artisans including world-class Guest Artists among others Lynn Redgrave (Blessed Memory), Dame Cleo Laine, John Amos and Kathleen Chalfant.

 

Thank you Suz Claassen and the Invisible Theatre for bringing light to the desert in so many ways for so many years and allowing me to to be a part of your incredible endeavor!”--Obie Award- Winning Actor -- Kathleen Chalfant

 

The Pandemic was challenging, but Susan had the ingenuity to keep Invisible Theatre open with clearance from the AZ Department of Health in June of 2020, and safely produced over 180 live performances bringing much needed entertainment to the Tucson community. Claassen says, “A highlight of this time was a collaboration with Tony Award winner director and playwright on the “Pandemic Premiere” of her play GLORIA - A LIFE.” 

 

For nearly 50 years, Susan Claassen has dedicated her artistic and activist brilliance to enrich the lives of the citizens of Tucson while simultaneously contributing to the national theatre canon.  As she passes her torch to the next generation, we give her a long and thunderous standing ovation.” thunderous standing ovation.” -- Tony Award-Winning Director and Playwright -- Emily Mann

                       

Suz herself has acted in over 70 plays including 4 one-woman productions including SHIRLEY VALENTINE, THE SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, BECOMING DR. RUTH, and her award-winning A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD which premiered in 2002. It continues to tour coast to coast and internationally with well over 1,000 performances.  Susan was awarded Phoenix New Times Best Actor 2012 - Edith Head, LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award Nominee Best Actress for her portrayal of Edith Head in A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD, Broadway World LA Award as Best Actress for her portrayal of Edith Head in A CONVERSATION WITH EDITH HEAD, The San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle 43rd Annual Excellence in Theatre Awards for Best Solo Production and Best Production. 

 

After 25 years of working with Susan and IT, I started Austin Cabaret Theatre.  Whenever I encountered a dilemma–big or small–my motto has been WWSD?” . . .What would Susan do?  And THAT is what being a mentor is.” -- Producer, Director, “Edith Head” Host - Stuart Moulton

 

With Susan as IT’s Managing Artistic Director, the Invisible Theatre (IT) achieved many firsts! IT was the first recipient of the Arizona Theatre Association's “Outstanding Producing Theatre Award” in 1999. Not to be bound by a theatre’s walls, Susan helped take the theatre out into the community. Invisible Theatre’s “Shakespeare Under The Stars” flourished from 1976 through 1982. In the early 80’s Susan went to prison - presenting drama workshops and radio plays performed by prisoners for their families on visiting day. She was the first “Theatre Artist in the Prisons” sponsored by the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Susan was the original Tucson City Water mascot, “Pete the Beak” encouraging water conservation in the desert.

 

Suz created a workshop for the “Very Special Arts” festival. Out of this, the exemplary, innovative arts education program for mentally and physically challenged students, The Pastime Players, was born and continues to this day. In 2002, they received the Southwest Gas Corporation “Right from the Start for Children” Award. This award-winning program is the subject of a documentary film, “Such Good Friends” which premiered at Tucson’s Loft Cinema and went on to be a fan favorite at film festivals. Throughout the years, Susan has willingly and enthusiastically responded to countless requests from the community for hosting presentations both educational and entertaining including collaborations with such organizations as Angel Charity for Children, Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona, University of Arizona, City of Hope and The Tucson Jewish Community Center.

 

Suzs passion for the arts has shined for over 50 years; for 20 years Ive had the privilege of calling her my partner in supporting local non-profit organizations.  Whether it was a production at IT or emceeing an event, Suz made hearts align and has brought joy, laughter and love to Southern AZ as a performer and friend.” - -Executive Director Tucson Jewish Community Center -Fran Katz

 

To debunk the myth that you can’t do theatre in Tucson, Arizona in July, Susan collaborated and created the inaugural production of a cabaret series called, Sizzling Summer Sounds in 1990. The cabaret has grown from a single production to a series of concerts that has featured world class artists such as, Steve Ross, Dame Cleo Laine, Natalie Douglas, Jon Weber, Amanda McBroom and Ann Hampton Callaway. 

 

Susan Claassen is an impassioned, multi-talented champion of theatre and music.  With her imagination and tireless spirit, IT has succeeded as a Tucson cultural mecca with a national presence.” -Tony-nominated and Womens Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductee-- Ann Hampton Callaway

 

Susan has always been an arts advocate and political activist. She was the first person in the arts’ community to help raise funds for the Tucson Aids Projects at the height of the pandemic. She created Tucson Artists Perform for Tucson Aids Project - “Tap for Tap” - a year long series of benefit performances. She continually rallies against censorship in any form. She served for 18 years on the prestigious National Board of People for the American Way, a constitutional liberties organization at the request of founder Norman Lear. 

 

Claassen’s many accolades and honors include Tucson Lifestyle’s Ten Most Admired Women, City of Hope Woman of the Year “Spirit of Life” Award, Distinguished Service Award from the State Federation for Exceptional Children, TUSD Superintendent’s Honor Roll Award for Special Education, Torch Humanitarian Award for Efforts on Behalf of People with Aids, Governor’s Award for Women Who Create, and was in the first group of inductees to “Arizona’s 48 Most Intriguing Women”

 

I have had the pleasure and great privilege of knowing and working with Susan Claassen for thirty years.  I have witnessed Susans professionalism and eye for detail, astounding talent, tenacity, enthusiasm, boundless energy and her sixth sense for what will engage both actors and audiences.  She has been a role model, mentor and an invaluable part of the Creative landscape of the Tucson Community for the last 50 years. Her passion is unparalleled, and I am grateful to call her my dear friend, colleague and my mentor.” --- Betsy Kruse Craig

 

Claassen says, “2024 is a perfect time to evolve to an advisory role and pass the “sequined” torch of leadership to my associate and treasured friend and colleague, Betsy Kruse Craig. She is a gifted actor, director, educator, and theatre artisan. She is the perfect person to guide our next generation of artistic programming.  Betsy has a respect for the past and honors our very “visible” legacy, is brilliantly active in the present and will lead IT into the future with her own multi-faceted vision. It is my hope that Invisible Theatre will continue to be a very “visible” and integral part of Tucson’s rich tapestry of cultural organizations and that I will always be a part of IT.” See attached fact sheet for additional details

 

MORE TO COME….

Looking ahead, Suz will direct the final show of the 2023-34 season - THRILLER OF THE YEAR opening on April 23. The Invisible Theatre Advisory Board, staff and committee plan to hold a variety of exciting events throughout the year to honor her long standing commitment to Tucson, Arizona and the national theatre community. For additional information please visit https://edithhead.biz/https://www.invisibletheatre.com/ or contact Betsy Kruse Craig at 520-884-0672 or betsy@invisibletheatre.com  

 

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