Actor Susan Lynskey has enjoyed a long working relationship with Roe, from its beginnings at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to its run at Arena Stage through February 19. In this week’s Take Ten she shares her love of new work, her early history as a Biblical percussionist, and a memorable run-in with Eva Braun.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
The Nutcracker at Papermill Playhouse when I was very small. When I got a little older, I remember seeing it again at Lincoln Center. Humbly, I don’t think I ever fully grasped the full story - but when a little girl has a dream, anything can happen - and there can be mice.
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
I was the Little Drummer Boy – yes, the Drummer Boy. The actual boy had an attack of nerves and was throwing up backstage, so we needed an emergency understudy ready to go on mid-show unrehearsed. I was four years old at the Holy Cross Lutheran Nursery School Christmas play. I heard my teacher in this loud whisper pleading, “Who can be The Drummer Boy!?!” “Pass It On” I raised my hand, I picked up the drum and the sticks and ambled alone onto the stage. “Shall I play for you?” And there I was. A pig-tailed percussionist Little-Drummer-Boy-The-Girl. "Pa rum pum pum pum."
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
I don’t have a “favorite”, per se. There are many works I love and which have been formative. As someone though who’s dedicated to new work creation, I’m always keenly curious about the story that hasn’t yet been written.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
I’ve always loved working. I’m truly a worker-bee who thrives in work so it’s hard to think of the ‘worst’ job. I’ve been fortunate, too, that I am either best blessed or cursed with a huge imagination off and on the job. The ‘worst’ jobs therefore take on a whole new life. So I was once a candy-striper who carried catheter bags (covertly for CSI), and a hostess who not-so-secretly brought Shakespeare to The Steak-and-Ale, and a community pool attendant turned underwater wildlife rescuer/synchronized swimmer when you just added water…
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
It’s 1945. The end of the war in Nazi Germany. I was playing Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, a harrowing character in a harrowing time. This is understatement. In the last scene of the play, she is in the bunker; she has just taken her cyanide tablet; she is waiting and wanting to die. As I speak the last lines of the play, confronting myself and the audience with the truth about atrocity and the abuses of power, I lift my glass to cue the booth for the final sound of the show: a seat-shaking bomb detonation.
The CD skips. Sound: A Toilet Flush. Blackout.
When Bill Rauch wrote to me and said, ‘It is evident in my heart and mind that you should join our OSF Company and be in Roe, said simply, it changed my life. The collaboration and compassion of Lisa Loomer as a playwright and the joyous rehearsals wherein each one of us as actors, each day, brought our best work and our best selves to the room was transformative and amazing. Now Roe the play is changing lives. I feel this. We are holding space for a national conversation on the issues with true compassion for all views. Every play is of its time. But for my own body of work, I have never felt this more powerfully and more viscerally than in Roe. It is not a retelling of historic events; it is a living story at the forefront of our national debate. Right here. Right now. What am I enjoying most about working on Roe for Arena Stage? To be telling this story, in this place, at this moment…We are making Herstory.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Since this is a dream question anyway, why should I be limited to just one? I would love to have a cup of tea and conversation with many across history and time. (The thinkers, the feel-ers, the do-ers.) And in this moment, as this question is being asked, I find myself wanting to sit down with anyone who has ever believed in some thing larger than themselves and quietly and bravely said, “Yes.”
8) What is your dream role/job?
Onstage: As a creator of new work, I would love ‘a-yet-to-be-written role’ to play that a playwright, director and I work on together. Perhaps a few years from now - in an extended collaborative process - Something meaningful and undiscovered with a strong social justice bent. Offstage, I would just like to write a simple note: “Dear Michelle Obama, what do you need and how can I help? Love, Susan.”
I believe as theatre-makers we teach empathy one play at a time. So a dream job would be to continue my life-long in that role, on the boards and/or on the world stage.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
The 1937 opening of the Federal Theatre Project’s The Cradle Will Rock.
10) What advice would you give to an 8-year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
Ignite your curiosity. Use the full capacity of your great brain. Turn on your heart-light. Cultivate the great work not the great job. Value collaboration and kindness in yourself and in others. And always be a good scene partner-- in life and art.
SUSAN LYNSKEY returns to Arena Stage in Roe where she appeared in Noises Off, Proof, Well, Born Yesterday, Book of Days, Intimations for Saxophone and The Importance of Being Earnest. She is a proud new Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member who premiered in Roe, Richard II, Play On, Blues For Mr. Charley, and Black Swan Lab. her regional credits include Hostage (Center Stage); Citizen13559 (Kennedy Center); Lisa Loomer’s Living Out (Round House); The 39 Steps, Hay Fever, Farragut North, Rancho Mirage and The Laramie Project (Olney, associate artist); Intimate Apparel (African Continuum); Ghost-Writer and The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl (MetroStage); The BFG (National Theatre); The Sisters Rosensweig and Body Awareness (Theater J), and The Cripple of Inishmaan (Studio Theatre). Recent Film/TV credits include Turn, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and The Wire. Susan is a Georgetown Theatre and Performance Studies professor and recipient of multiple Helen Hayes Nominations and Awards, DCTS’s Audience Choice Award, and DCCAH’s Individual Artist Award. Favorite offstage role: Loving pet parent to her famous grey tabby, the inimitable Egg.