Sometimes life is defined by a single incident. And when that incident is tragic, things change abruptly. Author, poet and playwright Susan Hayden’s beloved husband, Christopher Allport, a well-respected and busy actor of stage, screen and TV, died in a freak avalanche while skiing at Mountain High in 2008.

Even as the ten-year anniversary approaches, she says, “The devastation never goes away. It doesn’t subside and you don’t graduate, it’s always there.” She needed to learn how to raise their then 11-year-old son, Mason, as an “only parent,” because she and Chris always did everything together. “We would drive Mason to school together, make random lunch dates; he was my best friend, my editor, was entrenched in every aspect of my life. Processing a loss like that takes forever.”

The only way she could get through it, Susan says, was “by diving into my creative life. Chris was so invigorating and so engaged on all levels that the only way to honor his spirit is for me to live that way. His loss has actually made me more present in my own life.”

That’s why she brought “Library Girl” to life. “Creating this show has saved my life,” she says.


“Library Girl,” is a monthly, mixed-genre literary series featuring original writing by poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists, monologists, and singer-songwriters. Funding it out of her own pocket, Susan produces it on the second Sunday of each month at Ruskin Group Theatre (Santa Monica), to which Susan donates all the proceeds.

This coming Sunday, January 14, Library Girl, now in its 9th year, celebrates its 100th performance, titled “Busted-Down Ford & Platform Heels,” a special event in collaboration with Padua Playwrights. She pulled the title from lyrics to the song, “Brownsville Girl,” co-written by Sam Shepard and Bob Dylan.

The event is, in fact, an homage to the late actor/playwright/ director Sam Shepard, who along with Murray Mednick and Maria Irene Fornes, co-founded the Padua Hills Playwrights Workshop and Festival in 1978. Shepard passed away last year.

Padua was named for the estate in the San Gabriel Foothills where it originated and was renowned as a gathering place for playwrights to feed off each other’s creativity. They produced an annual festival of original works—once described by the L.A. Times as “a lovely madness of unusual plays”—by writers who have since gone on to help define American theatre, such as David Henry Hwang, Jon Robin Baitz and Julie Hebert. Susan Hayden also studied and wrote there in the late 1980s and says, “they were instrumental to my creative life.”


The workshop and festival no longer take place, but under the artistic leadership of much-respected theatre director/writer, Guy Zimmerman, Padua Playwrights Productions has become a prolific production company. Its plays are performed locally, nationally and globally and the texts have been collected and published in anthologies distributed by Theatre Communications Group.

Zimmerman has been with Padua since 1990 and is one of the Padua people who’ve been asked to write original pieces in response to Shepard’s inspiration or influence on them, which will be presented as scenes, short plays, monologues at Sunday night’s event.

Shepard’s death brought many of the Padua originals back together. Zimmerman said, “The memorial to Sam in October 2017 was a thrilling night, with the community, including people like Ed Harris, Bill Pullman, Leon Martell, Sam’s sisters and so many others, reuniting for the first time. There was a sense that as dark as things seem in the world right now, the spell is being broken and we must come together again to create the kind of theatre Padua represented. This collaboration came out of the impulse to do something creative with each other again, influenced by Sam.”


Sunday night’s performance is co-curated by Darrell Larson; writers will include Wes Walker, Guy Zimmerman, Sharon Yablon, Leon Martell, Darrell Larson, Susan Hayden, Eduardo Machado and John Diehl. Actors include Juli Crockett, Robert Knott, Max Faugno, Lauren Campedelli, David Starzyk, Jennifer Stefanisko and John Kenower.

And Mason Summit, Susan Hayden’s son, will be there, too. Mason is now a 21-year-old singer-songwriter, she says, “who’s releasing his fourth CD of original songs on January 19. He is a Songwriting major at Thornton School of Music, has his own quarterly show at Beyond Baroque, called Mason’s Noise Parlour featuring local artists, and he’s been opening my Library Girl shows with songs since he was 12!”

A $10 ticket includes a Taco Cart and Open Bar; tickets available now at www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. The theatre is located at 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica, and the night’s events start at 6 p.m.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.

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