full bio


Steve Umberger has directed / produced / writtten / developed 250+ plays and film/video projects for companies including People’s Light & Theatre (Philadelphia), Florida Studio Theatre, Barter Theatre, An Appalachian Summer Festival, Flat Rock Playhouse, Cape Fear Regional, Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Riverside Theatre (FL), Spirit Square, Children's Theatre of Charlotte (Artistic Director), Festival Stage (Creative Director), N.C. Shakespeare Festival (Resident Director) and Charlotte Repertory Theatre (Founder & Artistic Director). He has founded or co-developed four companies including producing and directing 100+ plays for Charlotte Rep, guiding the company's artistic growth over 25 years as the region's flagship professional theatre company and national member of LORT, with a $2m balanced budget.


His work includes long-term development and premieres of new scripts, among them The Ghostman by Wendy Hammond, Boca by Christopher Kyle, Benedictions by Judy Simpson CookAnita Bryant Died For Your Sins by Brian Christopher Williams, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily by Katie Forgette (published by Playscripts), Signature by Beth Henley and The Deer and the Antelope Play by Mark Dunn (both published by Dramatists Play Service).


Playworks Group: Umberger formed The Playworks Group LLC to develop and produce special arts events and work for stage and film. The musical Lunch at the Piccadilly, based on Clyde Edgerton's best selling novel with songs by Mike Craver, was a decade long project which Umberger directed in four productions and in concert at the York Theatre Company in N.Y. Playworks has produced and toured plays, film/video projects and arts and education events. Current work includes developing a new format: multimedia documentaries, blending stage and film. Call Me By My Name and Acting Our Age, were both created over a three year period with groups of people whose life stories illuminate the history and culture of their time. First performed onstage incorporating elements of film, the projects then also become the subject of film documentaries tracing the works' evolution.These projects give close-ups on history's critical moments and movements. Playworks has collaborated with many organizations in and outside N.C. including Spirit Square Arts Center, First United Methodist Church, Aldersgate ccrc, Olli at Duke University and The Forest at Duke.


Festival Stage and freelance: In the past decade, Umberger has been Creative Director for Festival Stage, a LORT standard theatre series in residence to establish the theatre at the renovated Rhodes Center for the Arts in Winston-Salem. In addition to directing, he produced the company's Visiting Playwright Festival, which hosted all the season playwrights in residence from New York. With John E.R. Friedenberg and Brook Davis, he produced the Festival Stage collaborations with Wake Forest University and the Wake Forest ALS Center, including Moises Kaufman's 33 Variations (which received the W-S Arts Council Arts Development Award for innovation). 


Many freelance credits include Edward Albee's The Goat or Who is Sylvia? to open Florida Studio Theatre's third theatre and play series. In partnership with Managing Director Pedro Silva at N.C. Shakespeare Festival, he directed Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest and King Lear (a three year project also at People's Light in Philadelphia, where it received a National Endowment for the Arts Shakespeare in American Communities grant). Umberger's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, developed with Cirque du Soleil veteran Karl Baumann and a creative team, has appeared at three theatres and continues to be developed.


Charlotte Repertory Theatre: As Founder and Artistic Director of Charlotte Rep, Umberger formed the company with a small but mighty group of artists and supporters to establish a professional contemporary theatre and a home for artists and audiences. When he left the Rep 25 years later it had grown from small ensemble to one of the 70+ national members of the League of Resident Theatres, in residence at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. The Rep's new play program hosted many scripts chosen from natonal submissions, 34 of which subsequently premiered at the Rep, and were published and produced at many U.S. theatres, off-Broadway and in feature film.


In two terms as Rep Artistic Director, with the team his work includes developing three series of plays for a diverse audience, as well as a collective of resident and visiting artists, among them Clyde Edgerton, Bonnie Franklin, Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights Tony Kushner and Beth Henley, and Academy Award winning actor Olympia Dukakis. Directing credits include many new plays, regional premieres, a noted production of Kushner's Angels in America (one of its first post-Broadway productions), and a unique three-year collaboration with The Charlotte Symphony on three of Shakespeare's plays. That project, produced in the 2,000 seat Belk Theatre at the Blumenthal, used complete play texts and musical scores, and combined the work of 100 performers from multiple disciplines on stage together. the Rep became the 2.5m metro region's first full-time professional theatre, and its first Actors' Equity company. It remains the area's only LORT/AEA affiliated theatre, developed during the pioneering 60 years (50's to 00's) when professional regional theatres were first formed in every major American market as an alternative to Broadway and commercial theatre.


Arts and education: An advocate for arts education, Umberger has been a frequent guest lecturer/director including regularly for Davidson College. As Artistic Director of Charlotte's Children's Theatre for eight defining years, with Executive Director Mary Montague he introduced professional production and new play commissions, and developed the first regular programming for middle and high school actors and audiences. With Kevin Campbell and the team, he created The Ensemble Company to provide pre-professional experience for young theatre artists. Among the alumni are many working in the arts including actor Ali Hillis, writer Cheryl McKay, filmmaker Marshall Curry (2020 Academy Award, Live Action Short) and songwriter Kristin Anderson-Lopez (Academy Awards for the songs Let it Go and Remember Me). During these years staff and budget tripled, and CT soon after moved to its new home at ImaginOn (where The Ensemble Company continued for 20 years).


Through his long-term work with Charlotte Rep, Children's Theatre and N.C. Shakespeare, Umberger helped open and establish Spirit Square Arts Center (in its initial renovation and subsequent redesigns) and Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, as well as the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts in Winston-Salem.


Writing/directing: From a script by Jon Singleton, Umberger expanded the project into the trilogy Decoration Day, about multiple generations of an Appalachian family. Produced for CT and Piccolo Spoleto Festival with one company of actors and musicians, he then adapted and directed the trilogy for ETV. Other writing/directing credits include adaptations of Alan Parker's Bugsy Malone, Cat Stevens' Numbers, and, with Kas Sipe, a musical adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. With collaborator Wendy Hammond, he developed and directed Like Ashes, to address the problem of substance abuse, and an adaptation of the classic A Wrinkle in Time. He has also contributed arts features to Playbill, Southern Theatre, American Humanist and others.

Film/Other: Film/television includes producing and directing the documentaries StreetsmARTs and Acting Our Age, the PBS production of the trilogy Decoration Day, and short films adapted from the plays Boca and Husbandry (ASC Emerging Artist Grant). Acting and appearance credits include features, network and HBO films/series, and the Emmy Award nominated documentary Dear Jesse. Umberger studied in the professional program at Manhattan’s Circle in the Square (the only U.S. conservatory affiliated with a Broadway theatre); Univ. of NC/Charlotte (BCA); and with Alan Langdon and Larry Moss in NY. He has served frequently as arts panelist and adjudicator, and currently serves on the Board of The Paige Johnston Thomas Giving Tree Foundation, dedicated to assisting the arts goals of young people. Umberger is a member of the national unions for directors and actors, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and Actors' Equity. 


His partnership with the deceptively diminutive Rebecca Koon has produced many collaborations, and their best co-production: their yogi ninja daughter Maggie Valentine.