Theater artist Suzanne Avalon is no neophyte. She knows her stuff, has studied with New York theater royalty, has paid her dues and makes a habit of giving back to the Idyllwild community. She is an experienced actor, producer and entrepreneur who gave up a successful career in Hollywood to come to Idyllwild, raise her children and create a healthier lifestyle.
Theater is in her blood. “My Mom, Mary Tucker, was an actress in Hopalong Cassidy movies,” she said. “And growing up my family was bicoastal, living both in Manhattan and in Palos Verdes, California.” As a teenager, Avalon played bit parts in sitcoms in NYC, including “Room 222” and soaps, including “All My Children.” She studied with famous acting coach Stella Adler, Group Theatre co-founder and New Republic and Nation drama critic Harold Clurman, and Broadway and film director Jack Garfein. “I feel like I had the best experience with these masters,” said Avalon.
“I got my feet wet Off Broadway in a production of Williams’ ‘Glass Menagerie’ playing Laura,” she recalled.
After years in New York as an actor, Avalon decided to come to Los Angeles to experience what she called the “other side of the camera.” She worked in production, as assistant to the executive producers of “St. Elsewhere,” then to ABC where she worked in story development and in developing movies for television.
In 1986, burnt out and remembering Idyllwild from a summer at ISOMATA, Avalon and then husband Frank Ferro moved to the Hill. They opened the Avalon Metaphysical Bookstore, Coyote Art Gallery and the village’s first coffee house, Espresso Yourself, in Village Lane. “It was quite a change going from big time Hollywood business meetings to selling incense and crystals, and instead of having lunches at the Ivy in Beverly Hills to having lunch at Jan’s Red Kettle,” laughed Avalon.
But, she acknowledged, it was a change for the best. “It was a wonderful place to raise my children,” she said. “I remember once I was working during the summer as a lifeguard at ISOMATA. I was sitting in the tall lifeguard chair looking out over the meadow. I saw a boy on a bike with a fishing pole with his dog following behind. He was heading down to the Grotto to fish. I thought, ‘What a real gift it is for that kid to live here.’ The boy was my son.”
In 2003, believing that Idyllwild needed live theater to justify its reputation as an arts town, Avalon founded the Isis Theatre Company, now known as the Idyllwild Actors Theatre. The first season was a success and included Avalon’s role as a dog in “Sylvia,” by A.R. Gurney. In the role originated Off Broadway by Sarah Jessica Parker, Avalon played Sylvia, the dog adopted by a husband, in a play about the challenges the dog brings to the couple’s marriage. “People remember that first season and still ask me to bark,” she said.
Although Avalon heads the oldest established theater company in Idyllwild, she bemoans the lack of a dedicated performing arts space. “Every town needs a playhouse,” she said. “I’m bewildered if we are supposed to be one of the top 100 arts towns in the country, why we don’t have a performing arts space. We’re gypsies without a home and it makes producing difficult. Still, I am so happy to have been given this gift of being the caretaker of this company and having so many dedicated actors and directors working with us. I have the freedom to make artistic choices, not just the everyday Neil Simon fare. We can stretch and be edgy. The board and I don’t have to ask permission. I’m proud of what we are accomplishing.”
Avalon has taught acting at Idyllwild Arts Academy and currently serves on the Idyllwild Community Fund Advisory Committee. She recently chaired and organized the group’s second “Wine in the Pines” fundraising event. The 2015 event was held to fund continuation of the Idyllwild Youth Grant Makers, a program of the Community Foundation that teaches young people the value of philanthropy.
Avalon produces results, gives back to the Idyllwild community and does so with experience and talent.
For more about Idyllwild Actors Theatre see www.Idyllwildactorstheatre.com.