Susi Brown, Theater Diva.
Susi Brown makes theater happen in this region. Theater goers strongly applauded her one year experiment in launching her own small company Pier Pressure Productions, a few years back, and the venue, (post River Theater closure) on 10th that seated forty happy audience members nightly.
An educator, producer, director, actress, seamstress, the works. After 2O some years of teaching arts/speech/theater/journalism at Knappa High – she took a two year sabbatical to earn an MFA in Theater Direction. She directed numerous plays at The River Theater, has produced several plays now at KALA, works with the AAUW Reader’s Theater program, directs at the Coaster, and keep things rolling in a time when it not easy to launch productions without supporting programs. Just when you haven’t heard from her, she always shows up with something new.
Q. What brought you to the craft of theatre?
A. My cousin and I would read the Sunday comics, and make plays out of them and our grandparents would very sweetly indulge us. My dad taught school and also directed school plays. My aunt a country school teacher also wrote little musicals for her students and I would go to see them, and I remember staring down into the reflection of the floor and thinking, ‘when I grow up I want to be just like my aunt Ginny.’
Q. Favorite playwright?
A. Oh so many. I do love Ibsen and the ideas he held forth. I really enjoy Lillian Hellman as well. One of my favorite pieces is about Joan of Arc, called “The Lark.” I love the whole Joan of Arc idea, and the fact that so many playwrights have attempted, so many filmmakers, and the passion that drove that person, at all costs, she held true to her visions. And the thing about Lillian Hellman, her strong characters, her lead characters are women. That’s hard to find.
Q. What is one of your most successful, memorable productions in the region?
A. That’s an easy one. When the Anne Frank exhibit came to Astoria, (mid 90s) organizer Carol Newman asked me to do the production. We had chosen our season already, and the students were excited about. But I invited them for a BBQ and thespian meeting, and asked them to consider Anne Frank and told them why, and that was the end of discussion.
The students who took that on were amazing. They did everything for it, research; a special viewing of the exhibit, they talked to Holocaust survivors in preparation of their roles. We did a 36 hour non-stop tech because that was the only time we could get into the PAC building. Not once did those kids raise a fuss. By showtime the only thing we had not found and needed was a menorah that was historically accurate. Then one night I felt a presence behind me and it was Phyllis Lobe. She was holding a menorah that her parents had carried from Germany when they escaped the Nazi occupation. She talked the kids about it. Their response was so appropriate, and so humbling. Every piece fell into place.
Q. What are the strengths of community theatre in this region?
A. I see a desire for community members to put on a show of quality. At the Coaster, I also felt that strongly when I had Pier Pressure, the River set a wonderful precedent for quality. The other thing I see is the mix in community theatre. I’m really fond of working class coming forward and tasting art. Not that that’s an unusual thing, but community theater allows a venue.
Q. And what may be the challenges?
A. In community theatre you always you have talent and skill levels that are so far apart. The challenge is to try to find a nice meeting ground and still put on a strong, high quality piece. The other thing – people are so diverse in what they do in their lives- is to find a sense of family, because when you are working on a show you develop that, and sometimes that’s a challenge, but it can also be an amazing reward.
Also, the attitude that theater is for . .. thinkers. But working class people are thinkers and considerers. So when someone who is out there working hard, finds the time and desire to do theater, they bring in their friends, and theatre no longer becomes, for whatever reason, a threat. I have heard it many times, ‘I’m afraid to go to theater because I don’t think I’ll understand it.
Q. What do you think is the future of theater here on the coast?
A. That’s a little delicate, because we are a little sparse right now. But I forever, ever hope that Liberty Theater is going to entertain more live theater. The Coaster I believe is solid. We’ll see The Coaster from here to doomsday. That’s because they have very solid tourist traffic, they have strong benefactors. They have a beautiful space and a budget. Astoria is kind of in a whole right now, as far as live theater, but I don’t see it as “the end all be all” of the situation.
Q. How did you come to direct “Doll’s House?
A. I wasn’t considering directing at the time, but I went to a show there, and saw the season line-up – so many good shows. I spoke to Patrick Lathrop during the intermission and said I would be interested in directing this season. He didn’t miss a beat, he said, “I’d like you to direct “ A Doll’s House.” Not one I was thinking about honestly. We met about it and found out we were on the same wave length about how to approach it.
Q. You have done the show before?
A. I was in the college production when Reed Turner was in the drama department at Clatsop, probably 81’.
There was a young woman, Teter Kapan, who played the role of Nora. When Patrick was pulling costumes, we still needed pieces from Jeanine [Fairchild,] he brought out this piece for Sofie Kline (the Coaster’s Nora) and it was originally what Teter wore. It’s had many lives, I think it was worn in Music Man as well, but I couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor.
There was a time when the college had a very strong drama, music and arts department. I miss it, as do many people. If you don’t have departments you can’t have a program. When we were talking about the future of theatre, that’s one of the biggest limitations in my mind. Oregon has not neccesarily supported high school theater and music programs – so we don’t have our feeder programs and in turn Clatsop does not have the programs. This situation is obviously prevalent in many places.
Q. What is your take on Ibsen Doll’s House? It’s been called a “feminist” play?
A. I’m really not working from a feminist point of view – and try to remain true to what Ibsens’ intent was, and he was not trying to push a feminist idea. I’m actually more concerned with some of his themes about false morality and manipulation of reputation, and the discovery of self. That’s huge for me. There is a self-awareness that all the major characters come to in this play. Some of it comes too late.
Which is one of the reasons this play is under the headline of realism. All the big questions are asked in this play to. Poor Ibsen at one point was considered by his nation to be “an enemy of God,”an enemy of society, and an enemy of the bourgeoisie. I love this play because it is jammed packed with ideas. You go on an amazing tour from ignorance to recognition.
And I would like to add that Sofie Kline is doing an amazing job as Nora. She’s grown the role leaps and bounds since we began reading for the part. It’s a great pleasure to work with such a dedicated actor.
Sofie Kline is Nora in “A Doll’s House”
To demonstrate the power, the value of community theatre, Sofie Kline is a young actress who is taking advantage of what it can offer here in the Lower Columbia Pacific Region. As a viewer of several of her portrayals, her performances have been more than adequately refreshing. As Jill Tanner, the free-spirited 60’s girl-next-door in the Coaster’s “Butterflies Are Free,” multi-roles in Spoon River Anthology where she proves she’s can whip up a melody too, Kline has that certain je ne sais quoi, in addition the ability to strongly characterize her roles.
Her family moved to Astoria her senior year of high school, where Kline worked with drama teacher Jenny Newton, and prior to that she had been involved in many school productions. She’s been in seven local community theater productions here and plans to attend Southern Oregon University Theater program in Ashland.
Q. What inspired you to work in the craft of theatre?
A. That’s a really tough question. It’s one of those things for me I’ve felt compelled to do. I don’t really know if there is a reason or particular moment that’s “it.” I have this memory of knowing that that is what I have wanted, and have thought of other things to do with time or life. But that’s always been there. Probably there was something in my childhood that really compelled me and don’t remember that moment but remember the feeling of wanting.
Q. What was your first role?
A. My first production was at a Boys and Girls Club when I was 9 years old (1999). Two guys running the theater department wrote this play, it was called “The Y2K Bug.” I played six different quick change roles. I had to go under the stage and change into a robot, a military person . . . it actually still is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, (she says laughingly).
Q. What was your first role as adult?
A. The first role that I did here in community theater was Land of the Dragon at The Liberty. At Astoria High School I was in “Daughters,” a series of monologues.
Q. What has been your actor training?
A. Jenny Newton at Astoria High is a wonderful acting teacher, I took an acting class with Karen Bain last year, and just doing productions, from middle school to high school, to community theater. I’ve also taken some acting-related workshops out of the area.
Q. Who is Nora?
A. Nora is an interesting woman. She definitely knows how to play the game, within her world. She very much understands where she is as far as what she can and can’t do in society as a woman. Her power, she understands where her powers are. Throughout the play she realizes she deserves more power, that her power is not full, that she is not actually engaged in her own life. For me, Nora is a heroine, she is someone who chooses a road that is not easy, but without going there, she would never have a full life, her life would always be absent of that choice.
Q. What is the challenge in playing this role?
A. With this character and with all of Ibsen’s characters, there is so much subtext, what is underneath what seems to be going on. To convey that on the stage is challenging. A good challenge, but definably a challenge. Most of the time Nora is absorbed in fear and unknown as to what’s going to happen to her, but she is very good at putting on a front to the world. She plays it off, like there is nothing wrong, as time goes on, she breaks down slowly, and she loses it in a way – but having to convey two meanings to everything, two emotions happening at that same time and the challenge to convey it on the stage well.