Sharon Ott received her BA from Bennington College with a triple major in theater, anthropology, and music. During her years at Bennington, she received a fellowship from the National Science Foundation to work with a team of anthropologists from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the University of Arizona on an archaeological site in northern Arizona. She also spent one non-resident work term at the Field Museum and one summer with the Seri tribe in northern Mexico. She was accepted into the MFA acting program at California Institute of the Arts under the direction of Dr. Herbert Blau. When Dr. Blau left Cal Arts, his students followed him to Oberlin College, forming the ensemble Kraken under his leadership. This group of young actors included Julie Taymor (director of The Lion King, Titus Andronicus, and Frida,) and noted clown and actor, Bill Irwin.
After two years with Kraken, Ms. Ott joined the ensemble Camera Obscura. Camera Obscura was a resident company at La Mama Experimental Theater Company in New York, and the Mickery Theater in Amsterdam, Holland. Their work was presented at both La Mama and The Mickery as well as in theaters throughout Germany, Belgium, and Holland.
Ms. Ott left Europe to return to the United States where she formed her own theater company, Aleph. Aleph produced work in Los Angeles before being hired as the company in residence at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. At UWM, Ms. Ott directed the Aleph productions, as well as teaching undergraduate acting.
While in Milwaukee, Ms. Ott developed an interest in the work of Theatre X, eventually joined the company, and became an Associate Artistic Director. She directed several productions for Theatre X including The Wreck: A Romance based on the poems of Adrienne Rich, and A Fierce Longing based on the life and work of Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima. The Wreck: A Romance was presented at theater festivals in the US and Holland, and the company received an Obie award for A Fierce Longing after its run at The Performing Garage in New York. Ms. Ott was able to travel to Japan under the auspices of the Japan Society to do research for the project, and this trip started a career long interest in Japanese theater and culture.
Ms. Ott became Resident Director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in 1980. During her association with the Milwaukee Rep, she was able to travel three more times to Japan; once to work with Japanese director, Tadashi Suzuki, and, twice with productions she directed. She also directed the world premiere of Amlin Gray’s How I Got That Story at the Milwaukee Rep, which won an Obie award after its New York run.
In 1984, she became Artistic Director of the Berkeley Repertory Theater, in Berkeley, California. During her 13 years as Artistic Director, she increased the company’s budget from $1.5 million to over $5 million, built the audience to 15,000 subscribers, and developed the company’s reputation for innovative programming that resulted in the Tony Award for Excellence of a Regional Theater in 1997. Sharon had the privilege to work with several artists who have gone on to national and international prominence during her years at Berkeley Rep. She nurtured the work of author Phillip Kan Gotanda, directing world premieres of Yankee Dawg You Die, and The Ballad of Yachiyo, as well as a production of The Wash in New York and Los Angeles. Ms. Ott also directed an adaptation of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior that premiered at Berkeley Rep before moving on to productions in Boston and Los Angeles. She directed the national tour of Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles which started in San Francisco before touring to Boston, Houston, Seattle, New Haven, and Washington, DC where it was performed at the Ford’s Theatre with then President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore in attendance.
She left Berkeley in 1997 to become the Artistic Director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Under her leadership, a successful $15 million endowment campaign was initiated and completed. She maintained a subscription audience of 14,000 and grew the overall audience for the Rep from 140,400 in the year prior to her arrival to a high of 185,000. She re-introduced the classics to the Seattle Rep audiences, directing Shakespeare and Shaw herself, and producing the work of Stephen Wadsworth, Mary Zimmerman, and Tina Landau. She maintained the Rep’s long term association with August Wilson producing the world premiere of Mr. Wilson’s King Hedley II and How I Learned What I Learned, Mr. Wilson’s autobiographical solo performance work, and brought the world premiere work of several major new artists to the Rep, such as Ping Chong, Phillip Kan Gotanda, and Nilo Cruz.
Ms. Ott has been a guest director at such theaters as the Arena Stage, the New York Shakespeare Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, the Mark Taper Forum, South Coast Repertory Theatre, the Huntington Theater, the Alliance Theater, Ford’s Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, Missouri Repertory Theatre, Arizona Theater Company, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, Playwrights’ Horizons, and the Manhattan Theater Club. She has also directed several operas; La Boheme, and The Conquistador at San Diego Opera, Vanessa and Salome at Seattle Opera, and Don Giovanni at Opera Colorado.
She is a member of the Executive Board of SDC, and serves as the Regional Representative for the Southeast. She is also a past board member of Theater Communications Group and the National Theater Conference. She is the Chair of the Regional Presence Committee for SDC, and a member of the union’s Finance Committee. She was the Chair of the Stavis Award Committee for NTC for two years, and has also served on several NEA panels, as well as California and the Georgia Council of the Arts.
After many years of working in the professional theater, Ms. Ott received her MFA in Performance from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015.
Ms. Ott began her theatrical career as an actor, and taught acting at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. She has been a guest lecturer at the University of Washington, was a Professor in the Performing Arts Department at the Savannah College of Art and Design where she also served as Artistic Director for the department. She joins the VCU Dept. of Theatre in July of 2017 as Chair.