Natalie Epstein, Community Arts Leader
2011 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO THE ARTS
People who know and work with Natalie Epstein consider her a force of nature in her passion and support for the arts.
motivates everyone and every group she strives to serve without any
thought of self-promotion,” says Ron Wilson, chair of the department of
theater and dance at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). “I know of no
other individual who has been so unfailingly committed not only to
supporting the arts personally, but to creating entities to sustain the
various arts groups.”
1991, Epstein cemented her support of the theater program at CWRU when,
at the request of the then Dean Susan Fergusson, she founded the
Friends of Eldred Theater. FOET helps develop a broader audience and
increase awareness in the community of the program and productions.
Under Epstein’s leadership as president for the past 20 years, FOET has
helped fund a variety of significant additions to the undergraduate
curriculum and was also instrumental in supporting the creation of the
joint CWRU/Cleveland Play House M.F.A. program nine years ago.
of the money raised goes to scholarships; each graduate also receives a
$500 stipend to pay the cost of the annual actor’s showcase in New
York. Epstein has been known on several occasions to write personal
notes on, sign and hand-address more than 750 letters to FOET’s mailing
list. “I do get writer’s cramp,” she says with a laugh. “But it’s a
labor of love.”
deep love for theater originated when she had her first theater
experiences at five. She went on to major in theater at CWRU. When her
children were older, she returned to CWRU to earn her master’s degree
in theater. She also worked as a freelance actor, director, and writer
in nonprofessional theater, and she taught and directed at Hawken and
Hathaway Brown schools. A show she directed called 100 Years of Women’s Education at Flora Stone Mather
caught the attention of Dean Fergusson, who knew CWRU’s struggling
theater program needed a shot in the arm, and had decided that Epstein
was just the person to administer it.
was also to serve, from 1996 to 2004, on CWRU’s Visiting Committee and
on the Special Task Force on the Need for a Performing Arts Center. She
has provided critical support to the College of Arts and Sciences as a
capital campaign co-chair.
she has served on the board of directors of both the Cleveland Play
House and the Great Lakes Theater Festival, Epstein's relationship with
the latter has had a special place in her heart because of her love of
classical theater. She’s been involved with GLTF (now Great Lakes
Theater) for more than 30 years, and in that time has helped shaped the
theater’s future in transformational ways. She was president when what
was then kinown as the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival moved from
Lakewood Civic Auditorium to the as-yet-unrenovated Ohio Theatre. “Mary
Bill, the managing director, and I looked at each other,” Epstein
fondly recalls, “and we said, ‘This is such a disaster. It’s going to
She also served on the committee to oversee the renovation of, and Great Lakes’s
move into, the Hanna Theatre, and she has been serving as
co-chairperson and now chairperson of the board for several years.
She’s most proud of several recent accomplishments, including Great
Lakes’s 15 percent increase in revenue and box office and 20 percent
increase in student attendance this season.
people of divergent walks of life sit down in a theater and it gets
dark, we eliminate all of our differences,” she says. “We are just one
people watching and responding, and that’s very important to me.”
2008 Epstein was recognized with the Cleveland State University
President’s Medal. The following year she received the Gries Family
Foundation (of the Cleveland Jewish Federation)
Award for Community Leadership and was voted into the Cleveland Heights
High School Hall of Fame. As the summer of 2011 drew to a close, she
was full of excitement—celebrating the 20th anniversary of FOET and
welcoming the class of 2015 acting majors to CSU.