Lee Foster, the executive producing director of Hillbarn Theatre and descendent of Foster City’s founding family, is heading to Georgia for new adventures now that the theater is in good hands.
Her father, T. Jack Foster Jr., has always been a patron of the arts and instilled in her a great appreciation for theater, Foster said.
“My father gave the land to Hillbarn originally and theater in general means a great deal to him; theater, ballet, dance all kinds of theater. He is always saying the great cities have great art and that meant a lot to me, both for the city because I’m a resident and I raised my kids here, but also as a Foster. Because I felt like that was a charge, a personal responsibility because Foster City is a great city,” Foster said.
Foster, 57, grew up in Hillsborough, lived on the East Coast and came back to settle down in Foster City in 1997. After switching careers, earning two masters degrees and rebuilding Hillbarn, she’s decided to move with her husband to an artistic community near Atlanta, Foster said.
“Just like on the stage, I like to make my exit and leave people wanting. I think you can stay too long, and I’d like to leave while I’m on top,” Foster said. “The second reason is I never wanted to be here forever. I have a bucket list of lots of artistic things I want to do and contribute to; so there’s some opportunities out there.”
She’s mum on describing most of those opportunities only saying she hopes to use her experience at Hillbarn to further the arts, Foster said.
“One of the things I’m really interested in doing is working on a book or article or series about leadership in the arts and using specific physical examples of the ways to sort of manifest passion and to put that into artistic leadership and management,” Foster said.
She’s been credited with revitalizing Hillbarn and has sat in nearly every seat in the house; she started on the board of directors, was promoted to executive director, left for a brief period before coming back to serve as both the executive and the artistic director. She’s even sang, danced, acted and produced, Foster said.
She has a sincere fervor for all forms of theater and is also the executive directors of Diablo Ballet Studio in Walnut Creek and the Fremont Symphony Orchestra, Foster said. She’s spent the last 14 years dedicated to Hillbarn and, Foster jokes, was like raising her fifth child.
“It’s sort of like being a parent. You nurture, you love, you think, you strategize on the best way to make something great. And in then end, you kind of have to let it go and it’s got to be who it is beyond you,” Foster said.
Her time in the theater was her second career and she used to work on and marketed for cruise lines for many years before committing to Hillbarn as executive director in 2000, Foster said.
“My career was putting bodies in beds on cruise ships and I moved back to the Bay Area and into Foster City and Hillbarn was about three blocks away from my house,” Foster said. “So I thought, if I can put bodies in beds, I can put butts in seats here at the theater.”
Inspired to revamp the theater, she returned to school and earned two masters degrees in business and in fine art, Foster said. She went on to turn Hillbarn into a successful nonprofit that draws people from all over the Bay Area and is the only theater on the Peninsula to own its own building, Foster said.
She finally feels comfortable leaving Hillbarn knowing it’s become such a success and that it will be left in the exceptional hands of Dan Demers who will be replacing her, Foster said.
“When I met Dan, there wasn’t a bone in my body that wasn’t impressed. He’s friggin’ amazing,” Foster said. “I’m just so lucky that I can turn my baby over to an incredible parent, I mean I really love this institution. I think it’s so critical for the community. It has to be in the hands of someone who loves it.”
She has fond memories and a sincere appreciation for her staff, particularly her husband Greg Sudemeier, the company’s musical director who she met while working at Hillbarn, Foster said.
She won’t be moving until the end of the theater season in June and plans to visit frequently. She’s made some very close friends and will miss her kids, father and the artistic collaboration. Extremely appreciative of all she’s been handed, she’s ready to pass it on, Foster said.
“When we got here, honestly, the board and the community kind of gave us a magic paintbrush and said go make [Hillbarn] whatever you like. And here we are 14 years later and we did it and it was so fun,” Foster said. “So now somebody else has to take that magic paintbrush and do it again.”
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