Susan Owen Interview

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Susan is on Broadway in The Phantom of the Opera. On tour she starred in Beauty and the Beast and The Phantom of the Opera. Her regional credits include The Taming of the Shrew, The 25 Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Singing in the Rain.

 

1. What was your worst on stage mishap and how did you recover from it?

I can think of 2 worst-onstage-mishaps off the top of my head: The first was in the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera. I was playing Christine, and at the end of Act One, I’m supposed to take a bow center stage (as a character in the Il Muto Opera). Immediately before this moment, there’s a fairly quick wig change and a brief off-stage reprise of “All I Ask Of You”. Both things are done below the stage level. In order to get back up to the stage, there are some pretty steep steps you need to climb (in a ginormous dress..at a fairly speedy pace) that lead directly onto the stage. I think you may know where this is going…I change my wig. I sing my tune. I haul up my dress and start to book it up the stairs. They page the curtain for my dramatic bow and—Splat. I fall flat on my face. In a big dress. In front of about 1700 people. Not my finest moment.

The other awkward moment was during the National Tour of Beauty And The Beast. There’s a short scene before “A Change In Me” between Papa and Belle. I’m standing offstage, ready to enter the scene, hear the musical cue to enter but–no Papa. I wait. And wait. And eventually just have to go onstage alone, at which point I start meandering around and proceed ramble on about how great it is to be home, but somehow it feels “different” (attempting to set myself up for the song). About 2 bars before I’m supposed to sing, Papa comes wandering onstage (he hadn’t heard the cue) and I, basically, just bolt over to him, plop him down and say something profound like “Listen, Papa. I’ve got somethin to tell ya!” And launch Into the song. Shakespeare it was not.

 

2. Are there ever times you want to go into the audience and smack someone around a bit?

I can’t say I’ve wanted to punch an audience member per se, but cliche as it may sound since it’s so prevalent nowadays, seeing the light of a cell phone (whether the person is texting or taking a picture or whatever!) truly makes me bonkers. And I’m a huge texter myself. But really? You can’t wait an hour and a half until intermission to check your phone? Really? It slays me.

 

3. When did you know acting was something you just had to do?

I pretty much always knew this was something I wanted to do with my life. Well, it was either this or being a waitress (little did I know as a kid that those careers often coincide:) My mom did theatre when I was younger and I would always tag along with her wherever she went.  She later taught theatre and I’d basically just hang out in those classes, too, so it was always around me and, mostly, was something that was just a fun thing to do. Eventually, in 6th grade I think, I auditioned for a community theatre production of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and ended up getting the part of Lucy, which was, essentially, the lead little girl. That’s when I thought this might be something a) I was good at, and b) I wanted to do with my life. And from then on, I pretty much did theatre anywhere I could find it–middle and high school shows, community theatre, Interlochen Music Camp (an awesome arts camp in Northern Michigan), and then ended up studying it in college at The University of Michigan (I had to get in a plug for my school:). I was hooked.

 

4. After a bad day at the “office” who do you turn to for support?

After a crap day I would say the person I usually turn to is one of my best friends, Sandra Joseph. We actually met kind of randomly waaaay back in the day when we were both cast in a production of Hansel And Gretel in East Lansing, MI (my hometown–and she was going to school at MSU). After that we lost touch a bit but then we both ended up on the National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera, and that’s when we officially bonded. Later we also did the Broadway production together. Annnd we’ve pretty much spoken every day since then. And, honestly, it’s very rare that  we even talk about The Biz–although it’s always nice to have someone in your life who ‘gets it’. It’s very Oprah and Gayle. She’s Oprah. I’m Gayle.

 

5. Who inspires you?

I have to say, I’m always inspired (and humbled) by committed teachers. Excuse me as I step on my soap-box for just a minute here, but, to me, it’s one of the most important professions out there–you are trying to instill a love of learning–a passion for learning(!)–in kids, while also possibly being their confidante..and their cheerleader..and their disciplinarian..It’s a massive undertaking, and I feel so grateful to have had some truly amazing ones throughout my life. And it’s really horrifying to me how little we seem to value them in this country. (annnd now I’ll step OFF my soap-box:)

 

6. Do you get nervous and how do you work past it?

I do still get nervous! Not daily, but if someone I know and care about is in the audience–definitely. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done something, the nature of theatre is that it isn’t static. It changes– if only a little bit–every time. So you never know exactly how a performance is going to go. That ‘changeable aspect’  always adds an extra measure of nerves to a performance, especially when you really want to do well for someone. To work past it I suppose I just try to go back to the basics: listen to what’s being said, stay in the moment, and keep breathing!

 

7.What advice do you have for people who are just starting to pound the pavement?

My advice would be: A) try remember to have fun! It’s why most of us got into “the business” in the first place. I still think back on my high school shows as some of the best times I’ve had doing theatre. And if you can remember that, even after being rejected for the umpteenth time, it will help keep you going. B) ..annnndd speaking of rejection, there’s a ton of it. And it never really gets easier. In fact, in some ways, it gets harder. But what I have found to be helpful is to remember that everyone is unique. You can’t be anyone else but yourself. Attempting to ‘sound like Audra’ or ‘act like Meryl’ probably won’t get you the part because it’s not authentically who you are. And ultimately, knowing who you are and what you can bring to a role is what’s going to make the difference in booking the job.

 

8. Have you had a moment where you really connected with an audience?

I can’t necessarily pick out one specific instance where I connected with an audience, but  it’s happened a few times at this point and each time it’s really special. I think it’s part of why actors keep acting–for those moments that you can’t quite describe, but there’s a certain kind of quiet that comes over the audience and you can feel that they are just ‘with you’.  It’s definitely not an everyday occurrence, but when it happens, it’s pretty profound.

 

9. Theatre has started to become a bit more mainstream. Is this development a positive or a negative?

I think theatre/musicals going mainstream can only be a good thing. Whether it’s Glee, or the movie version of Les Miz, the more exposure people have to music and theatre the better in my book.

 

10. If you could go back and understudy an iconic performer in an iconic roll who would you choose and why?

That’s a hard question! I know I should probably say Judi Dench in…anything..or Zoe Caldwell in Master Class (which I was lucky enough to see and she was, indeed, incredible), but, I think it would be–Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. I remember watching that movie pretty much every Thanksgiving as a kid, and she very quickly became my ultimate Musical Theatre Idol. Obviously, her voice is perfection, but she also brings such an honesty and open-ness to everything she does. Hmm, maybe I’d want to understudy her just so I could somehow end up being her friend. She seems so down-to-Earth and real. Who knows–it could still happen, right? Never say never 🙂

Comments

  1. I love this interview. The questions are great and Susan’s candid and thoughtful responses were so great to read. I know Susan and like her very much. This was like a perfect little visit and I have loved it. Thank you, Susan (Gayle) and Jenny. I wish there were even more questions and then thoughts from Susan. Thank you. Anne

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