Marsha Hanna, artistic director of Dayton's Human Race Theatre Company, died on Monday. I was saddened to learn of her passing — especially at age 59 — because she was a passionate advocate for theater, not just in Dayton but throughout the region. The last time I recall crossing paths with her was at the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville back in early April, but she was often in opening-night audiences at Cincinnati theaters like Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company when actors from her stable of regular Human Race actors were in the cast — people like Bruce Cromer, who's regularly seen on stages in Cincinnati and Dayton.
Marsha spent 20 years as the artistic director at Human Race, partnering for that entire stretch with Kevin Moore, who serves as managing director. They were a dynamic pair who made a big difference in Dayton's arts scene and beyond, as was recognized by their receipt of the Ohio Governor's Award for the Arts a year ago.
I first met Marsha in the late 1990s when I was CityBeat's Arts & Entertainment Editor and I decided to write profiles of people heading theater companies in the region beyond Greater Cincinnati. Marsha was an ebullient spokesperson for her organization, but was fascinated too by what I was learning from conversations with others. We had several excellent exchanges, and over the next decade, she always made me feel welcome when I traveled to Dayton to see the productions she directed.
Her final production for Human Race was the regional premiere of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County. Typically, I traveled north to see it and was so glad to have done so; it compared favorably with the production I saw on Broadway some years ago. The show was a collaboration with Wright State University (where the show was staged) and co-directed by Scott Stoney. It was a memorable work, as was most everything that Marsha did.
Marsha came to Dayton in the 1980s as a founder of the one-time Illumination Theatre. She was a graduate of Bowling Green State University. She died at Grandview Hospital in Dayton after a year-long battle with cancer. A memorial service will take place, but it has not been scheduled. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Marsha Hanna is the fact that the theater she played an integral role in shaping will celebrate its 25th anniversary with its 2011-2012 season. I'll miss seeing her smiling face in the lobby.