I have very few photos of Susie, but thankfully Shaun made sure to get one of the three of us. Love this photo!
I cheated on this blog post. As much as I loved our choreographer and connected with her on a personal level, I knew that there was a better person to write about the work that Susie did. About how much heart she brought to the show, and how integral she was to its ultimate success.
That’s why we have a guest author today!
As assistant choreographer (and another first time Orphean), I knew that Deborah was ideally placed to write this post. So I asked her to contribute!
Thanks for sharing, Deb:
Lovely lady with a heart of gold!
My guess is that the relationship between the choreographer and the assistant choreographer is rarely documented in print. It’s a unique relationship, and my experience as the assistant choreographer in Orpheus’s production of Mamma Mia! was truly a gift – which is fitting because the relationship began on my birthday!
I have a personal policy that I never work on my birthday (I encourage you to do the same).
So instead of going to work, I had made plans to meet in the rehearsal space at Orpheus House with Shaun, our Artistic Director, and Susie, our Choreographer.
I had never met Susie. I had never talked to Susie. In fact, at this point, I wasn’t even Facebook-friends with Susie. That’s important because, when she showed up at Orpheus House, she had a present for me!
To this day, I’m not sure how she found out it was my birthday, but that first encounter set the tone for our relationship. Susie is a person who gives 100% of herself to everything she does, and to everyone she meets.
Here’s a short video of Susie imparting a portion of the dance that Deborah would need to teach the actors as part of their audition:
During that first meeting we discussed Shaun’s vision for each of the songs. We talked about which songs would require dancing and which merely needed blocking. The difference didn’t mean very much to me at the time, but I diligently took notes. This was my first experience being involved in a musical theatre production, so I had no idea what to expect.
Susie during rehearsals, showing a part of the dance to Voulez-Vous.
I soon came to discover that my role would include teaching the audition dance, capturing videos of the dances and sharing them on a Google Drive for the cast to learn from, assisting the Choreographer with partner dances, and answering cast dance questions.
I watched Susie’s every move, every encounter with each cast member, and with every member of the team. In part, that was because it was my job to know the dances and how she explained them to people, but also because I was enthralled with her passion for teaching dance to others, and giving of herself so freely!
I watched as she patiently answered questions, providing solutions to the trickiest parts of the choreography, and offering to come in early and stay late to help anyone having trouble learning the moves.
“Everyone can dance,” Susie says. And she was determined to make everyone believe it!
There is a certain vulnerability to art. You put yourself out there; you put your creations out there, and you wonder how it will be received.
Dance is no different.
Watching Susie bravely do it night in and night out gave me the courage to try choreographing a track myself.
I was terrified! Did I mention that there were professional dancers in the show?!
I listened to the song (Does your Mother Know) an obsessive amount of times. I made copious notes, and finally stood in front of a talented group of people, ready to put my creation into the world.
The first night’s rehearsal of Does your Mother Know – still lots of polish to be done, but check out Deb’s choreography!
Knowing Susie was behind me (she literally sat at a table behind me!), encouraging and supporting me and all the amazing dancers, was all I needed!
I had watched her give so much to everyone on the team, and that night Susie gave me all that same love and support. It was such an incredible gift!
The more I got to know Susie, the more I realized that giving who she is. It is honestly and authentically part of her life.
One last story to illustrate who Susie is:
Another screen shot from the rehearsal video for Voulez-Vous.
My mom came to the show, and as we sat in the producer’s seats at the back of the theatre, Mom started to tear up during Our Last Summer.
In the second act, that song comes right before the emotional heart of the show: Slipping Through My Fingers and The Winner Takes It All. I remember thinking, “Oh boy, Mom has no idea what’s coming!” And just as I had predicted, Mom was a puddle from the first notes of those songs until the end.
Susie was sitting behind us, and I saw her bend down and give my mom a hug.
They had a sweet embrace at the end of the show too, and I knew it was another example of Susie giving of herself to make the world a better place.
Deborah and Susie (cropped from a shot by Alan Dean Photography).