By Scott Vezdos, director of marketing and development for Actors’ Theatre of Columbus
Actors’ Theatre of Columbus kicks off its 2021 outdoor season, “Changes,” with one of Shakespeare’s must beloved romantic comedies, Much Ado About Nothing, running through June 20. We sat down with actor Susan Wismar, who takes on the dual role of Beatrice/Borachio, in anticipation of ATC’s return to Schiller Park.
Scott: Describe your art and your creative process.
Susan: Theater is my art. Theater performance holds the meticulous preparation as well as the spontaneity and surprise of a new dynamic occurring within a moment onstage. We long for story and connection and empathy, and theater brings the bodies and lives of audience and actor in the same physical space for this intimate exchange. Acting is offering the audience to relate to another human being. The relatability may be familiar, expected or poignantly, relatability can be to a character who would otherwise remain entirely foreign.
Scott: How do you recharge and/or refine your artistic process?
Susan: In a list? You need water, sleep, food, beauty and friendship if you are going to return the next day with something human to offer your performance or rehearsal. It’s deeply ironic to be performing the art of expressing humanity while ignoring my own basic human needs for connection, rest and delight. Let’s be real, I do deny I’m a human person far too frequently. But it is unsustainable to block off parts of myself and still be able to offer my fullest expression of a character. Refining my process is about engaging more fully with my whole self so that it’s there to offer to others.
Scott: How long have you been acting, and what is the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself along the way?
Susan: I’ve been acting for most of my life now, and it has been a progressive revelation about acknowledging my body as an integrated entity and not just components of feelings, ideas and physical container for my brain. In 2012 I returned to acting after a four-year hiatus to play a glorious villain in Robin Hood by Philip J. Hickman. I was so uncomfortable discovering and performing the physicality for my character. It took nearly the whole production for me to identify that my uneasiness wasn’t nerves at being back on stage, but nerves about truly inhabiting my body. I had been coping through life by disconnecting from my full body, and that role helped me see that. I continue to learn about my entire integrated soma for my life and my art. In storytelling, I need to access my empathy and physical-emotional experiences to become present in them. I need to access them safely and return to a regulated state with safety. But those are literally life skills, emotional regulation skills and recovery to create the safety to do that.
Scott: What production or role are you most proud of?
Susan: I don’t connect easily with saying I’m proud of my work. I can say that there are productions that feature great roles and great actors — and those projects are worth amplifying: Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show, performing with Beth Josephsen and Chamber Music. In Chamber Music, director Jeb Bigelow curated an ensemble wish-list of talent that I got to work with. Eight women, historical figures, confined in an asylum engaging in self-governance. Jennifer Feather Youngblood, Carolyn Demanelis, Acacia Duncan, Nikki Davis, Kate Jones, Dakota Thorn and Kim Garrison Hopcraft – for crying out loud! It was a comedic gift and a tutorial in deep tragedy from these women.
Scott: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Susan: “Perfectionism is a habitual commitment to self doubt.” – Prentis Hemphill, Embodiment Coach, Transformative Healing Justice Facilitator
Ooooo, this one stings. I want to tell myself that my perfectionism is a pursuit of excellence, but that’s some B.S. Excellence – or truth – or connection – while acting comes from exploration: finding what doesn’t work, pushing past my inhibitions to something real-er than the emotive expectation. Perfectionism denies any process or discovery. Habitual commitment to self-doubt also robs me of feelings of satisfaction or pride in work well done. It’s a total lose-lose, zero stars, would not recommend.
Scott: What’s the best advice you feel you can give?
Susan: Work with Mandy Fox. Work with Jennifer Schlueter. Some of my most satisfying, challenging and scary explorations happened in the thoughtful and considered containers these women made for their actors to play.
Scott: Describe one of your favorite moments working with Actors’ Theatre.
Susan: In almost every theater, having an audience of 20 people can be a great house. But in Schiller Park, you can make your entrance to hundreds of people. The work of your heart gets to be shared with hundreds of strangers, an impossible privilege. Every show, it never gets old. All these people sitting out there gave us their evening, and hopefully, we give them delight, excitement, escape or a laugh.
Catch Susan in the dual role of Beatrice/Borachio in Actors’ Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, May 27-June 20 (Thursdays-Sundays at 8 p.m.) at Schiller Park Amphitheatre in German Village. Full show information available at www.theactorstheatre.org.