BWW Spotlight Series: Meet Susan Stangl - Director, Sound Designer, Actress, Singer and Medical School Professor
With the current theatre world on hiatus, I have created a Spotlight Series of interviews with some of the many talented artists who make our Los Angeles theatre community so exciting and vibrant thanks to their ongoing contribution to keeping the arts alive in the City of the Angels. And like all of us, how are they dealing with the abrupt end of productions in which they were involved?
Today I am spotlighting Susan Stangl: Director, Sound Designer, Actress, Singer and Medical School Professor
Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your own theatrical background?
Susan Stangl (SS): I started acting when I was 5 and was involved with plays at my local neighborhood park and in my school. I wrote, adapted, directed and acted in plays in elementary and middle school as well as writing and performing background music for some of the shows. My favorite productions from that time were an adaptation of some Winnie the Pooh stories as well as a murder mystery I wrote in 8th grade. I continued to act in high school and college and helped run a theater group for middle and high schoolers where we performed skits written by the students and a production of Our Town.
Although I wasn't an official theatre major, I spent so much time there that people thought I was, even though I was also pre-med. Then I went to medical school. I kept up my music but wasn't able to get back into theater until some years later when I became a medical school professor at UCLA. I studied theater with a wonderful teacher for a few years and started auditioning for local productions about twenty years ago. Since then, I have acted in and directed numerous local shows as well as doing sound design for 120+ shows as well as writing some original music. And I have been in TV and film projects as well.
(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?
(SS): I was directing Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Kentwood Players and working on sound design for Wait Until Dark and A Comedy of Tenors at Theatre Palisades when things shut down.
(SB): How did you communicate the shutdown with your cast and production team?
(SS): I kept in touch with the theater board and my cast via email and text. Sadly, we had just performed a joyful and well-received invitational dress rehearsal for a small audience of designers, crew and their families the night before we closed our doors for what would have been our opening night. The cast was so excited to get some audience reaction and it was definitely the best show I have ever directed, and it felt like one that had been up for a few weeks and had not just opened. Ironically, the director's job is generally pretty much done when the rehearsal period ends, but I feel an obligation to the theater, the cast and crew and our audiences to bring them this terrific show. I only hope we don't lose our momentum with the enforced break.
(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?
(SS): As far as I know, Kentwood Players would like to open the show when it is deemed safe to do so. The sets, costumes, lights and sound are ready and the actors want to keep the show alive. We have our first online ZOOM meeting tonight (March 23) and plan to keep the production fresh and ready for an audience until we get the all-clear. Five out of the six cast members can "be" there for the online Zoom group chats where we run through the lines and schedule future sessions. There is a chance that due to schedule changes everywhere, I may need to arrange for double casting or understudies for some parts, which I am in the process of doing. So much is up in the air, but I want to be as ready as I can. And of course, I am hoping that everyone stays healthy in the coming weeks.
(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?
(SS): I was planning on auditioning for a few shows that are now postponed. In addition to the two sound designs I am already working on, there are at least three others coming up for me this year.
(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?(SS): I am in a country rock band, Dreamers and Drifters, that is hoping to rehearse online starting this weekend. I am working on some monologues and scenes, as well as writing and recording some music and sharing it with other friends online. There is another theater where I work that is meeting online weekly to read plays and scenes to stay in touch. In some ways, we may well have a chance to get together more since we don't have to drive for over an hour to get to rehearsal! And the cast of my show is eager to keep things fresh with online meetings and line-throughs.
(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?
(SS): I hope that many of the remote technology options may continue to bring people together, and they may well be better for the early stages of rehearsal when we are doing work that does not require us to meet physically or when we just want to run lines. I also hope that we will appreciate the gift that we have in being able to present and attend live theater - it is even more precious now that we cannot have it.
As a trained health professional, I urge us not to rush into any situations that may put our actors and audiences in jeopardy. This is an unprecedented situation and we need to be patient and safe. Write, connect in any way you can, and use this time to develop projects you haven't had time for because you are always at the theater - be the experience artistic or personal.
For more information about Susan Stangl's upcoming shows, please visit the following websites:
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike: www.kentwoodplayers.org
Wait Until Dark and A Comedy of Tenors: www.theatrepalisades.org
For more information about her country rock band Dreamers and Drifters: www.dreamersanddriftersmusic.com