Hippo Manchester
December 1, 2005

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Theater: Meet Suzanne Delle, Yellow Taxiís driver

Bringing cutting edge theater to the Granite State

By Robert Greene    rgreene@hippopress.com

Suzanne Delle has a bachelorís in theater, a masterís in arts administration and has studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. The founding artistic director of Yellow Taxi Productions, Delle won best director and best supporting actress awards at the 2003 NH Theatre Awards for her work on Closer (before it became a movie). Her production of The Last Five Years won the 2004 NH Theatre Award for best musical. She was selected as one of Manchester Union Leaderís 2004 40 Under 40 and currently is attending Catholic Universityís MFA Directing Program. Delleís mission is to bring quality, cutting-edge theater to southern New Hampshire, whether residents there are ready for it or not.

How did it come about that you founded Yellow Taxi?

Well, I had worked in New York, for different companies. And I was doing fundraising work in Manhattan for theaters that worked on new works, developing new plays. I found that really exciting and interesting and when I came back to New Hampshire to work with the American Stage Festival ... obviously in New Hampshire that type of theater is not being done and it really wasnít being done back in 2000 when I came back. So, I started the company basically to work on the type of shows that I had come to know and enjoy in Manhattan. As an artist, I find them more challenging. And as an audience member I find them more challenging. And I thought that would also be true for the theater community in New Hampshire.

How did you get involved in theater?

[Laughs] I grew up in Manchester and I donít know how long you have been around but do you remember Michael David and the Childrenís Theater? I was involved in that way back in the day, starting when I was 5 years old.  Then I was president of the [drama group] at Central [High School]. Then I have an undergraduate degree in theater and thatís how. There is so much childrenís theater around but I donít think that we are showing them that you can have a career in theater. I think what the kids think, I know I thought this, that it is a fun thing to do and then you grow up. And thereís not a viable career option for you. I didnít know anything about developing and marketing, all the things Iíve done for a living, until after my undergraduate years. There never seems to be this idea of ďOh, you can do itĒ and there are other places. That was one of the other things I wanted to do with Yellow Taxi is to show theater for adults by adults and reveal that there is someplace to go with this.

I talk to a lot of people who are making a living running theater companies but I donít see a lot of full-time actors. Is acting a viable career?

It is, but not in New Hampshire. Right now, Yellow Taxi is the only professional theater company in New Hampshire. So if you want to get paid to be an actor or a director, no, not in New Hampshire. Certainly in Boston, in Washington, D.C., certainly in New York you can. But I am glad to have all these other skills ó fundraising, marketing. I often have thought that Yellow Taxi would have shut down long ago if I hadnít had those skills. Iím a grant writer for a living. So a lot of people come up to me and say, ďHow do you get this money, how do you get these grants?Ē Well, I write them and it takes a lot of time and research. But luckily I already knew how to do that. I wasnít learning on the job and thatís been helpful.

It sounds like you have given up a lot of the spotlight and stage time to do paperwork in the wings. Do you regret that?

I actually took myself out of any performing with Yellow Taxi in 2005 because I wanted to concentrate on fundraising. And thatís obviously disappointing to me because one of the reasons I started the company was so I could do work for myself. We still did the the shows that I chose. I still choose all the material we do, I still choose all the artists involved but I wasnít onstage or backstage for any of it this year.

Do you prefer to act or direct?

You know, thatís a hard thing to say. I think, because I an getting the MFA in directing that people think of me as a director, but, honestly, I really enjoy the acting. I think that is because, if you are an actor you only have to think about one thing. You only have to think about your part, your moment and your decisions onstage. As director you have to think of everything, and I think that is similar to what Iíve been doing with Yellow Taxi as artistic director and thinking of the whole picture. And sometimes I just like to walk into a room and only think of one thing, as opposed to being the captain all the time.

Yellow Taxi was founded in 2002. Whatís your reception been like?

We have a hard time because of a couple of different things. One is, of course, that we are doing shows that no one has ever heard of instead of shows with a built-in audience. Second, our shows have a very small cast, because we are paying everybody. We donít have a cast of 40 people in a town where everyone knows everyone. We might be bringing someone in to play a role instead of casting your next-door neightbor. So the audience and local theater people are having to learn to trust that we are going to bring in good shows and give good performances, and I think that is happening. When we get an audience, they come back.