Jane Bishop, who worked behind the scenes with Kenny Leon, first at the Alliance Theatre and then at True Colors Theatre Company, which she helped him form, leaves a four-decade legacy of work in the Atlanta theatrical community. She began working backstage at Theatre of the Stars and was the project manager for Elton John’s “Aida” when it had its world premiere at the Alliance.
Bishop, 65, died April 28 in Asheville, N.C., of complications from heart surgery. Word of her death began to spread through Atlanta over the weekend when Leon sent out an email tribute to her.
Collaborating with Leon at True Colors and the Alliance were the signatures of Bishop’s career. The two joined forces to make True Colors an almost instant success, producing work both in Atlanta and Washington. Founded in 2002 with Leon as artistic director and Bishop as managing director, it became known for stellar work and star-studded productions, such as Jasmine Guy’s adaptation of “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf,” with a cast that included Robin Givens, and “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men” with Glynn Turman.
Bishop moved back to Atlanta from Philadelphia, where she had been managing director of the Prince Music Theater, to get True Colors running.
Leon, who is in rehearsals in New York for an upcoming Broadway musical, released a statement calling Bishop “a beautiful human.” He praised her for being “more than a colleague” and for giving “to the artistic vitality of Atlanta.”
With dual degrees from Illinois State University, where she studied with the likes of Gary Sinise, Laurie Metcalf and John Malkovich, Bishop started working in Atlanta theater in the 1970s. An early job was with Theatre of the Stars. “She was a backstage person but then went into stage management,” says Christopher Manos, producer of Theatre of the Stars. “She was always a great problem solver.”
Manos also loved the fact that she could balance her time in and out of the office. “She had a real life as well as a theater life,” he says. “When I learned she could not come to a meeting one time because she had to go bowling, I thought to myself, ‘Who bowls?’ But I loved that about her. She will be greatly missed.”
For nine years Bishop was general manager of the Alliance Theatre. Jody Feldman, the Alliance’s associate producer and casting director, was a friend and colleague. “My husband and I became good friends with Jane and Sandra [Deer, Bishop’s partner],” Feldman recalls. “I loved working with her. I came in as Kenny’s casting director and assistant, and Jane made the transition easy. She was always so thoughtful and mindful of where everyone was, so good at managing to an individual. She was open and collaborative, and made the environment a very healthy place to be.”
One of Bishop’s last responsibilities before leaving the Alliance was overseeing the Elton John musical “Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida,” which later went to Broadway and ran for five years. Locally, she was also involved in the National Black Arts Festival and a number of other theaters and arts organizations. Another high point of her career was her involvement with the 1996 Olympic Games, where she supervised victory ceremonies in hosting venues throughout the state.
Del Hamilton, artistic director of 7 Stages, sought Bishop for his board of directors and she initially resisted, feeling that she had nothing to offer. But her input proved invaluable. “She guided our thinking,” Hamilton says. “One day, as we put together our season, she stood up and stated that our plays and way of working ought not to be compromised. She believed in our particular mission of bringing attention to the content, the ideas, of our work. I once suggested a rather commercial play as a means of solving some financial trouble, and she rightly reminded us of the mission and that we must keep it in the forefront.”
Bishop’s four years at True Colors was her last professional gig before moving with Deer to North Carolina to retire. But Hamilton could always pick her brain when he needed to. “Even when she left town for the mountains, she was always available and interested,” he says.