Suzanne Collins Interview by Jen Bush
Someone Close To You is a play that concerns Helen who is a fiercely independent spirit confronted by her son who is essentially bringing her home to die. Suzanne Collins portrays Helen and she graciously gave us some of her time to talk about this project and her storied career.
It was college that set Ms. Collins on her artistic journey. She has worked with some of the finest and most prestigious artists in the industry. Recently, she has added writing and directing to her wheelhouse. “I got the theatre bug in college at the University of San Francisco (which didn’t even have an official theatre department) My professional career began at the American Conservatory Theatre in my hometown of San Francisco where I played principal roles and worked with fantastic actors and directors. From there I toured with a Tony award winning production of School for Wives by Moliere, understudying Joan Van Ark as Agnes, a part I played later with John Cullum. In New York, I worked for the New York Shakespeare Festival in Henry V, under the direction of Joe Papp, and at Lincoln Center in Trelawney of the Wells (directed by A.J. Antoon) and The Cherry Orchard as Varya (under the direction of Andre Serban). I originated the role of the Ellen, the cook. in Tina Howe’s play, The Art of Dining. Work off Broadway included Cock a Doodle Dandy, Grotesque Lovesongs and Put Them All Together at the WPA Theatre. From there lots of parts in repertory theatres came along. All these are listed in the resume I sent previously. I played some guest star television roles in LA Law and Cheers, but my career was in theatre.”
“I’ve just directed a short film which I wrote, and this opened a new phase in my creative life. The script was a play I wrote for a festival at Theatre West but due to the pandemic we had to put it on film, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed working with the 4 young actors I cast! We had rehearsed enough to make the shoot go smoothly with only the usual bumps along the way.”
Ms. Collins’ creative process can best be described as organic. “I’ve never pinned down a name for my process in an acting role; it has to do with making the script real to me; having the stage action become alive – lifelike to me.
At ACT, Bill Ball, the founder and director of the theatre had a saying: “Do the Action and the Feeling will follow.” This sounds like the antithesis of The Method, in which you, the actor, must feel first, then act. (that’s simplified, I know). In acting, if I have enough rehearsal, whatever is said, or acted, at a specific moment, will bring up a reaction, or an action in me because we have rehearsed it enough. Almost like hypnosis. If you are improvising, you try to relax and let yourself be free enough to receive what is happening.”
When dealing with mature subject matter, some artists feel and added sense of responsibility when endeavoring to express the work in an appropriate manner. Ms. Collins feels that responsibility no matter what role she undertakes. “Hmmm. Of course I always feel a sense of responsibility in whatever play I am in to make sure that the message or the emotional impact of the work is clear. If, by mature subject matter, you mean one that may be easily clouded over with misunderstanding or irrelevant emotional reactions by the audience, like religion or sex, yes. I do feel it is my job to make sure I am focusing on the purpose of the scenes I am playing. What does the character want? where is she coming from? What world do they inhabit? What is the story, NOT what is the reaction to the story.”
Ms. Collins wants audiences to come away from this play thinking about love. “When you are supposed to love, and you are not good at it and you run from the love that needs you the most, you can’t escape it no matter how hard you try, no matter what mess you make.”
Being in this show has given Ms. Collins a different perspective on the people in her life who have negative traits. “This show has made me think about the people in my life whom I’ve put off as cold, or even cruel; it has made me see how vulnerable they are; I have looked at times in my life when I have wanted to shut down and see that it was so much about not wanting to feel.”
You can see Suzanne Collins in her poignant performance as Helen in Someone Close To You on February 3rd and February 4th at Theatre West in L.A.