Sunday, June 13, 2010

INTERVIEW: Susan Merson, Award-Winning Actress, original cast longest running Off Broadway Play VANITIES & Author of "Dreaming in Daylight"

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with SUSAN MERSON. She is an award winning actress, writer and theatre producer and author of “Dreaming in Daylight.” She began her career as an actress in New York starring in such Off Broadway hits as the original company of Jack Heifner’s VANITIES. She spends time on Broadway under the direction of Franco Zefirelli, regional theatre and in Off Off Broadway developmental work.

She relocated to Los Angeles where her acting career has included television and film work: Totsie w/ Dustin Hoffman & Jessica Lange, Absolute Stranger w/ Henry Winkler, Lost In Yonkers w/ Richard Dreyfus, Things To Do In Denver w/ Andy Garcia & Jenny McCarthy & Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machine w Arnold Schwarzenegger & Linda Hamilton. Her television work last season was on GREY’S ANATOMY and MONK.

She co-founded the LA Writers Bloc with director/writer Jane Anderson, has developed all of her plays at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in NY and LA., and has toured her eight solo plays across North America, Europe and Israel. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College.

She has served as Resident Playwright for the Jewish Women’s Theatre Project, Literary Manager of the Ensemble Studio Theatre and worked as a reader for such companies as Fogwood Films, TNT, Polygram among many others. She currently teaches Playwrighting at Cal State Fullerton. Her plays—one of which (HAIR: A REMINISCENCE) is a 2007 Heideman Award finalist at Louisville-- have been seen at theatres across the US and Canada.

Ms. Merson’s screenplay “BOUNTY OF LACE” a full length about contemporary Israel and Palestine won the Religion and Theatre Award at the 2008 At the Conference and was produced in Chicago at the Halcyon Theatre as part of the Alcyone Festival. THE WHITE BIRCHES (Amazon Shorts), a ten-minute piece, was done at the At the conference in Denver 2008.

She currently sits on the NY Board of the Ensemble Studio Theatre, leading the NY ARTS/ EST/ SUMMER CONSERVATORY PROGRAM. THE MARRIAGE SUITE , her newest play, is slated for a fall production at Theatricum Botanicum. She was at work shopped at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and has written and performed eight solo performance pieces and

Her novel, “Dreaming In Daylight” and “YOUR NAME HERE; AN ACTOR WRITERS GUIDE TO SOLO PERFORMANCE is available in bookstores nationally.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Furthermore, tell us about Susan Merson today -- the woman behind the award winning actress, writer, theatre producer, playwright and author?

Susan Merson: My goodness… hmmm. If I knew the answers to all those questions I wouldn’t have to keep writing, would I? Three Good to Knows… ummm…

1: Follow your heart,
2: There is no shame in earning a living and
3: Cultivate a good sense of humor.

On the front inside page of the Detroit News, Parade Magazine maybe when I was 11 or 12 there was a quote in frilly type face. It drew my eye and blew my mind.

Here’s a paraphrase.
Andre Gide said: “Look for your own. Do not do what someone else can do as well as you…. Look for your own and out of yourself create, you are the most irreplaceable of beings.”

I found that fact to be astonishing and if it was true, I thought, perhaps I had some work to do.

I have been reinventing myself yet again in the last couple of years, recovering from the death of my sweetheart husband after 27 years of marriage.

Returning to NYC after another life back in LA I am currently preparing the pilot summer for a new play intensive—THE NEW YORK ARTS SUMMER CONSERVATORY. We will spend six weeks working with about 19 students from the US, Europe and Asia on the art of collaboration and new play development. Challenging the student artists, Asking them to telling a story from start to finish as individuals and as part of a group. All of us learning to hone spontaneity, flexibility, outside the box thinking. I can’t wait.

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Susan Merson: Writing is part of the picture for me as an artist. It is not that different from acting, truly—getting out of the way of your brain so that the craft that you have learned can handle the downloads. It is a private and very still enterprise. I don’t really have much choice. It’s part of what do.

E.I. Please tell your readers about your novel “Dreaming in Daylight?” What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects of the book? Did this aspect of the book pose a challenge for you?

Susan Merson: “DREAMING IN DAYLIGHT” was a project on my bucket list. I had never written long form fiction and wanted to see if I could shape a story that held the reader and create a world with which I was intimately familiar. Rosie is a bit of me, I suppose. She was a young girl trying to make sense of growing up in a world that gave off a fair amount of external but not a great deal of inner framework—or at least an inner framework that I could recognize and trust. I loved revisiting some of my childhood scenarios and see how they might play when I had the freedom to adjust them and play with character, time and space. I wanted to record certain experiences and certain people and was able, I hope, to pay homage to them without telling all their secrets.

EI. How do you weave so much information while writing and creating the character ‘Rosie’ growing up in New York Jewish home, and yet you keep her so fast-paced and interesting? Did you work her out in advance, or did she evolve as you wrote the story?

Susan Merson: Actually, she grew up in Detroit, and she grew up fast. Hence the fast pace of the book. I suppose there is some of the playwriting craft there as well, getting to the heat of a scene as fast as possible. I had a beginning point for Rosie and a place where I thought she would come to… but the journey unfolded as I wrote.

E.I. You've created a cast of so remarkably captivating characters: Rosie, Leo (Rosie’s dad) and Belle (Rosie’s mom) that your readers definitely clamor for more; how did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work?

Susan Merson: Again, it is very much like acting. One places oneself in the situation and looks around, looks up and in and around the people who show up. What did they smell like? What were their loves and lives.. their favorite foods… all those specific details. Where are they coming from? Going to? Can’t really worry too much about what the readers accept. Though corny, the truth is that characters and situations have their own truth and the job of the artist is to tune into it and transmit it to the reader or viewer.

E.I. How did you pull in the reader into Rosie’s life, living her life day after day as she deals with the tremendous prejudice and hardship in her life?

Susan Merson: Rosie did it. Not me.

E.I. Do you take the view of a Jewish woman, or do you see
yourself as an objective observer, while writing Dreaming in Daylight?

Susan Merson: Well, I’m not an objective observer. I write from who I am. Sometimes a certain part of who I am may be leading the POV, but an artist filters through who they are and yes… I am a Jewish woman.

E.I. Your novel is a riveting work of fiction. What were for you the most haunting events in Rosie’s life?

Susan Merson: Thanks. I am pleased that the story held you tightly. I think the death of a parent, and the illness of a parent—those folks who are supposed to make you feel safe as a kid-- are the most traumatic. A kid needs to feel safe, somehow.. and if the parents are dealing with their own trauma—(which most parents do, they are people after all—)if the parents are in extremis then the kid has to adapt, survive and eventually thrive on her own merit.

E.I. And finally what’s next with Susan Merson? Can you give your fans a sneak peek about your upcoming book or play?

Susan Merson: I am actually working on a nonfiction piece about reclamation of body mind and spirit after the loss of my husband. I found that I needed to reconnect with myself somehow in my grief. I started with my body. As I got to know myself again, and began to release the pain that had stunned and paralyzed me, I found that my life could reopen in a challenging and exciting way. The work is pretty deep and the language rich. I so hope that it finds an audience. It is an important work for me.

E.I. Ms. Merson, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

Susan Merson: Rilke did it better: “Trust Life. Life is right in any case.”

Photo of Susan Merson, courtesy of the author.
To learn more about Susan Emerson, please visit her website.
To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

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