Originally from Williamstown, Massachusetts, long-term resident of New York City and Chatham, Massachusetts, Alison H. Harper, 83, passed away peacefully Jan. 28, 2020, at the Home of the Good Shepherd in Wilton, New York.
A graduate of the Northfield School for Girls, now known as the Northfield Mount Hermon School, and an alumna of the Vassar College class of 1958, Alison was a drama major and lifelong theater enthusiast who enjoyed a varied career working behind the scenes in professional theater. Her path began as an undergraduate, during which time she specialized in stage management and production, when she served as general production assistant for a Ben Johnson masque produced by Philaletheis, an all-college extracurricular theater organization of which she was elected president in her senior year.
She also spent the summers of 1956 and 1957 at the Perry-Mansfield Theater Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she worked as a stage manager for a number of performances. This was followed in 1959 by a summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival directed by Nikos Psacharopoulos. Due to the illness of an actor, Alison made the rare move of stepping out of her role as stage manager and took over the role of Mrs. Soames in a production of “Our Town.”
Arriving in New York City shortly after her graduation from Vassar, Alison accepted a staff position at the nonprofit Phoenix Theater in its early 2nd Avenue and 12th Street location. T. Edward Hambleton and Norris Houghton, the producers, founded this important venue for many now well-known actors, and Alison came to know many of these professionals while managing ticket sales and publicity.
Alison subsequently moved to the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center. While there, she had an occasion to meet the famed theatrical producer and director Joe Papp, who took a liking to her and offered her a position as director of member services for the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Later, Papp asked her to stay on at the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette St., where she started working in the box office in 1967. She retired from that same location in 1996, nearly 30 years later.
A true New Yorker in many ways yet a New Englander at heart, Alison was well known for her cheery demeanor, “game” attitude and wide independent streak. Even in her later years, when she heard of a fellow senior who was chafing at the difficulty of climbing the steps into a shuttle bus, she simply commented — to a friend, politely out of earshot — that the beleaguered “needs to buck up.” In addition to her family, she loved theater, dance, novels set in England, mystery stories and all things Scottish.
Predeceased by her parents, George M. Harper Jr. and Sylvia H. Harper of Williamstown; her eldest sister, Mary Marino; and a beloved niece, Mary Bishop Sherman (Jeff), Alison is survived by her twin sisters, Isabel Brown (Sam) of Saratoga Springs, New York, and Sylvia Bishop of North Stonington, Connecticut; two nieces: Jayne Marino (Sam), and Roni Marino (Mike); and two nephews: Gene Brown (Heidi) and Ned Bishop.
Services will be private. In lieu of flowers, interested parties are encouraged to contribute to the Old Village Association in Chatham, Massachusetts, home to many of Alison’s fondest memories and her favorite summer retreat (Box 188, Chatham, MA 02633).
Remembrances may be shared publicly at bit.ly/AlisonHarper.