Catching up with Phil and Susan McNeese Lynch, who have performed for more than three decades on Louisville stages

Susan McNeese Lynch and Phil Lynch are Louisville theater scene veterans. | Photo by Sara Havens

Even before Phil Lynch and Susan McNeese Lynch moved to Louisville from Lexington, they made calls to various theater companies asking the obvious: When are auditions held? That was January of 1985, and the husband-and-wife thespians landed their first role together locally that same year at the Clarksville Little Theatre.

More than three decades later, they continue to shine in the spotlights of Louisville’s theater scene, and this weekend the duo will take the stage together again in the Eve Theatre Company’s production of “10 Out of 12.”

Insider caught up with the veteran actors over a cup of coffee recently at Please & Thank You to find out more about the new show, their passion for theater and how it all began.

Both Phil and Susan grew up in the theater, and indeed, that’s how they first met.

“Our families belonged to the same theater company in Lexington — Studio Players,” Phil tells Insider. “I first heard Susan’s name when I was 16 — my mom came home after seeing a children’s theater production of ‘Joan of Arc,’ and she comes in raving about this Susan McNeese who played Joan. I was involved with the children’s theater as well, up until about 15, and then I became too involved in sports.”

Phil recalls meeting Susan in person a few years later, when he was in college and she was still in high school. It was at a cast party for Studio Player’s “West Side Story.”

Susan and Phil Lynch in a scene from Eve Theatre’s “10 Out of 12” | Courtesy of Eve Theatre Co.

“You were too young for me then,” Phil says to Susan.

“You were too old for me!” Susan fires back.

Over the years, the two eventually bonded through their love of theater and communications — a field both have worked in — and, upon moving to Louisville after getting married and working in Lexington, have made themselves mainstays of our abundant theater scene.

And while they each have numerous roles under their belts, they’ve only appeared in the same play together three times — “Promises, Promises” at Clarksville Little Theatre shortly after moving here in ’85, then “The Cocktail Hour” at Bunbury Theatre in 2002, and “Kin” at Eve Theatre Co. in 2016.

Part of the reason for that was Phil’s work and travel schedule. But while Phil was moving up the ranks in the communications world, Susan, who owns her own PR and communications company, continued taking on both small and large roles. And in 2012, Susan helped start the Eve Theatre Co. with three other colleagues.

In August, Phil retired from his job as director of corporate communications at Brown-Forman, and he now hopes to have a bit more time to play in the spotlight.

‘Theater just becomes part of your life’

Susan and Phil have acted together only three other times. This scene is from Eve Theatre’s “Kin” in 2016. | Courtesy of Eve Theatre

Phil and Susan both agree that their love of theater and being involved in productions at a young age helped shape them into successful communicators. Hence, both have thrived in the public relations field.

“Theater helps us both with what we do,” explains Susan. “It’s really helpful in terms of being able to remember things, presentation skills and just the whole notion of when you’re in a play, you have to go back and create a world for the character you’re playing, and that’s really what you have to do when you do communications work. You have to plot out how you think people are going to act, react and what’s going to happen so you can be prepared for it, or be prepared to maximize it and make it even better.”

One of the main benefits, Phil believes, is giving you confidence to stand up in front of strangers.

“You hear it all the time, people are afraid to stand up and talk in front of a group people. But when you’re in the theater, you get over that really early,” he says. “Theater just becomes part of your life.”

Apparently, the theater bug also can be passed on, because the Lynches’ youngest son, Alex Lynch, is in “10 Out of 12” as well, and their older son, Matthew Lynch, works part-time as an actor in New York City.

‘Well, it’s a dance, but it’s going fine’

Phil worked as a spokesman for Brown-Forman for 29 years, and before that he worked for two Louisville mayors — Harvey Sloane and Jerry Abramson — and also started his career in broadcast journalism. It was a surprise to some when he announced his retirement this summer.

Phil Lynch recently retired from Brown-Forman.

But Phil says so far, retirement is going well.

“People ask me why I retired, if I had to retire. And no, I didn’t have to retire,” he explains. “I just decided, I had been there for 29 years, I’m not retiring early — I’m of retirement age. I just decided to go out on my own terms. I had such a great career at Brown-Forman that I wanted to go out feeling great about my job and career.”

But don’t let the “R word” fool you — Phil is not spending his days on a shuffleboard court in Florida. He still serves as the chair of the Kentucky Center for the Arts Foundation Board, which keeps him quite busy, and along with acting and perhaps scoring some voiceover work, he plans to eventually start a blog called “Speaking for Myself.”

Why that name?

“Because I’ve spent my whole career speaking for other people,” he says.

There has been somewhat of an adjustment at home, now that Phil has his days free. Susan, after all, works from home and has for more than 18 years.

“Well, it’s a dance, but it’s going fine,” says Susan about Phil’s retirement.

“She did set one hard and fast rule for me, though,” admits Phil. “I can only call holler out her name ‘Susan!’ twice a day.”

‘Ultimately, this play is real love letter to the theater’

Cindy Smith and Susan McNeese Lynch explore some improvisation in preparation for “10 Out of 12.” | Courtesy of Eve Theatre Co.

The mission of Eve Theater Co. is to create opportunities for women of all ages in the theater — from acting and directing to playwriting — and it was started by Susan and her colleagues Diane Stretz-Thurmond, Charlotte Hammett Hubrich and Kim Butterweck in 2012. The company puts on two plays a year and usually one special “Eve-vent” show.

Anne Washburn’s “10 Out of 12” serves as Eve’s seventh season opener and is a hectic look behind the scenes of a production. The play actually evolved from notes taken by Washburn during her various tech rehearsals. It was first produced by Soho Rep in New York City in May of 2015 and was directed by Les Waters, who later worked at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

This production is being directed by Eve regular Gilmer McCormick and features a cast of 14, which includes Susan and Phil. Susan explains that the company read nearly 20 plays before deciding on this one. It was a clear favorite of the director’s, which is a good thing, as that is who spends the most time bringing it to life on stage.

“I am a firm believer that every play that ever gets produced has to have a champion — someone who really loves it and really wants to see it done,” says Susan. “In this one, our director, Gilmer McCormick, who has directed for us for the last three or four years, really liked this play. This was the one she fell in love with, so we let her be the champion.”

Phil says that on first reading, it was a bit complicated to envision, because it’s set during a tech rehearsal for a show and there are sometimes multiple lines being delivered at the same time.

“1o Out of 12” runs Oct. 26-Nov. 4.

“There are technicians that are actors, and actors that are actors,” he says. “When you read it, it’s hard to really grasp. When you just read it on paper, you miss a lot.”

Susan jumps in.

“In some scenes, there are three layers of sound — people talking on headsets, people at the tech table and people on stage,” she notes. “You can’t read that and get it, but once you start hearing it and notice people’s way of talking and the pauses, you start to get it. You really have to assemble 14 people and read that script together.”

Louisvillians might recognize Washburn’s name from the well-received “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” put on by Theatre [502] in 2015.

“This play is kind of bizarre,” says Susan. “It has a play-within-a-play scheme. The play within a play — I’m doubting if I should tell you this — but I really can’t figure out what’s going on in the play in the play. But I think that’s (Washburn’s) way of creating comedic relief.”

In one scene, Susan plays a prostitute who is trying to land a potential client, who just so happens to be played by Phil. It’s comedy, it’s stress, it’s a gamut of emotions that ring true behind the scenes of any production.

“Ultimately, this play is real love letter to the theater,” says Susan.

“And it’s funny,” says Phil.

“And every character in there — if you’ve worked in theater — you’ve known them, worked with them …,” Susan notes.

Phil adds, “Anybody who has been involved in theater will really get this, and then people who like to go to the theater will enjoy seeing what goes on behind the stage as you’re trying to put together a show.”

Susan jokes, “And people who don’t like the theater, I don’t know what we’re going to do with them.”

“10 Out of 12” runs Oct. 26-Nov. 4 at the Kentucky Center’s MeX Theater. Tickets are $22, or $19 for students and seniors.