Artfully Edmonds profile: Susan Connors touts the talent of the Phoenix Theatre

Tuesday, Nov. 17
8 p.m.
One Night Only!
A Fundraising Cabaret
The Phoenix Theatre
9673 Firdale Ave. SW

“Come to the Cabaret!” invites The Phoenix Theatre this week.

Artfully Edmonds (AE) interviewed Susan Connors (SC), a cast member in “Cabaret!” which promises to be a zany, madcap, frenzy of a fundraiser for The Phoenix Theatre.

Warm up your day by sliding a chair over and joining Susan as she talks about how she got her start on stage and found her way to the theatre company whose motto is “comedy, without all the drama”.

AE: Tell us a little about yourself and your involvement in the Edmonds community

SC: I moved to the area way back in 1986, but I didn’t start volunteering with The Phoenix Theatre until 2009. A short time later I became a board member.

I have always been impressed with the talent and drive of Artistic Director and Phoenix Theatre founder Melanie Calderwood. I was thrilled when Christine Mosere became a part of the leadership team as managing director. My experience with her when she worked with another theatre company, and that she has over 18 years’ experience in managing theatre gave me confidence that we would not only continue to grow, but would thrive. Christine’s desire to support the Edmonds community and tomorrow’s artists is infectious and to be admired.

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AE: What has been your career path? How have you earned your way?

SC: I was actually able to earn my living as an actress in my younger days, learning comedy in dinner theatre tours and other regional theatres around the South. I met my husband in LA, where I was working part-time as a casting and education associate with the Screen Actors Guild Conservatory at the American Film Institute.

Eventually I got lucky and signed with one of the top commercial agents, and a handful of national TV commercials allowed us to pack up and move to the Northwest, where my husband’s family is and where we could afford to buy a house and have a family of our own in this environmental paradise.

During my “mom years,” residuals from TV and commercial work allowed me to stay home with my son during the first two years of his life, and after the residuals mostly dried up, and theatre work proved unreliable, I did a five-year stint in bank marketing and eventually moved into my current job at the Seattle Library Foundation. Of course, during the really early years in LA, there were the usual short-term waitressing jobs that most performers find they need in order to make ends meet.

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AE: When did you realize you could stand up in front of an audience and get their attention; that is – make them laugh?

SC: I started acting in high school back in my hometown of Fall River, MA (home of the infamous but acquitted, axe murderess, Lizzie Borden). My first play was “Our Town,” and I loved the camaraderie and bonding that naturally occurs when a group of people gets together to do a play.

But it wasn’t until my second play – “Auntie Mame” – where I played the hapless Agnes Gooch, that the comedy bug really bit me hard. There is nothing as satisfying as hearing an audience laugh uproariously with you, and it was a balm to my fragile teenage ego.

I’ve found satisfaction in dramatic roles, as well, but comedy is the most immediate reward for performers. It establishes the connection with the audience early on, and laughter is a boost to both performer and audience – it’s proven that attending a live performance improves health and mental well being. A live comedy is even better!

– – –

AE: You’ve had many theatre roles — which one(s) are you most proud of?

SC: Last summer I had the privilege of playing the title role in “Hello Dolly!” with Twelfth Night productions in West Seattle. That was a total bucket list wish fulfillment – dancing in red sequins & a feathered headdress, lifted up by the chorus, boy oh boy, a dream come true.

But there are the little moments that are not so obvious, but even more rewarding and memorable – for instance, my favorite exit, bar none, was the long walk up the stage left aisle to the strains of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as my character in the Phoenix’s production of “The Sugar Bean Sisters” goes up to return to the “Space People’s flying saucer.”

And more recently, my heart is still aching from having to close “Over the River and Through the Woods” from last season. Our whole cast could have performed that show for months without getting tired of it, and we’re talking about reviving it down the line, because getting older in that show will only make it better (which one makes you cringe thinking back on things.)

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AE: Mishaps in theatre is the topic for this question: Did your script ever call for shooting someone on stage and the cap gun didn’t go off? or. . . maybe you got tangled up in the curtain? or . . .?

SC: Well, ask any actor to share stories of when things go wrong, and you’ll never hear the end of them!

Mistake moments can turn into comedy gold, and The Phoenix Theatre has done a couple of the “Farndale” comedy series, which is mostly about the things that go wrong in an amateur British theatrical troupe’s productions.

The Phoenix has done the Farndale Christmas Carol and the Farndale Haunted House – they are so much fun for actors because we get to make the mistakes on purpose. For comedy, of course!

– – –

AE: Which stage/screen/stand-up comic-style has become your role model?

SC: I don’t really have just one. There are a lot of performers I admire, and being a TV addict there is always inspiration there, especially for comedy. I sometimes will have a particular person in mind when creating a role. Sometimes it’s a vocal tick, sometimes a physical walk, sometimes a look that can ground me when exploring a new character.

For instance, during “Hallelujah Girls” last year, I had Bea Arthur’s “Maude” in mind in the early rehearsals. Though, in my opinion, you can’t sustain this during the whole rehearsal. Eventually you have to move on and make it your own, using the inspiration as a springboard only. Otherwise, you are an impressionist, not an actor.

But TV is so much better than ever now, and Melanie Calderwood, our artistic director, and I are always enthusiastically discussing some beloved show or other in breaks at rehearsals – our current favorite TV topic, though, is not a comedy, but “The Walking Dead.” For contrast, I guess!

AE: Why would the community want to support The Phoenix Theatre in its 2015 fundraiser, “Cabaret!”

SC: I volunteer, perform, financially support and patronize The Phoenix Theatre because I believe in their mission. Laughter is indeed the best medicine and bringing joy and laughter to the community feels right.

The Phoenix provides a variety of shows, and with seven years of consistent growth, they have proven they have the ability to get things done.

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AE: Why do YOU support The Phoenix Theatre?

SC: Having a history of arts, marketing, and development in my background, I know firsthand what it takes to put on great quality theatre. It is neither easy nor cheap. But The Phoenix Theatre makes it look easy and their grassroots approach makes it look like they spent a fortune while staying in budget. Not to mention the high quality talent that is always on their stage and the wonderful directors finding the funny in well-curated scripts. I feel so very fortunate to have met Christine Mosere, our amazingly talented and uber-competent managing director, who got me involved here.

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AE: What ‘pitch line’ will get folks away from their Facebook pages and into the theatre on the night of the fundraiser?

SC: I love the Phoenix Theatre’s tag line ‘Comedy without all the Drama’ – Our brand is comedy, and in today’s unsettling political and economic environment, people need more laughter in their lives. As I mentioned before, live performances, especially live comedy, is a boon to physical and mental health. Sharing laughter with others in the audience actually boosts certain brain chemistry that improves physical and mental functions. And our Cabaret features some amazing and top-notch musical talent that we don’t get to showcase that often in our comedies. Plus who can resist the comic stylings of George Burns (Larry Albert) and Gracie Allen (Laurie Bialik). It’s going to be a really good time, and we won’t keep you up too late!

Tickets to The Phoenix Theatre Cabaret are available at this online box office or call 206-533-2000.

— By Emily Hill

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