Interview with Susan Jorstad, The Pocono Record
Writing, as we all know, is very much a solitary endeavor and the writer sometimes wonders if they are writing words that anyone else will ever read. It is immensely gratifying to have written a book that has garnered some attention ─ especially in my community ─ since it is about musical theater in this community; thirty-one years’ worth.
My recently released book “More Fog, Please” – 31 Years Directing Community and High School Musicals has been doing well on Amazon since it’s November 11 release, reaching the number one spot in its category of Theater Direction and Production for a time, and presently is number two. That is definitely a first for this indie author!
A recent interview by writer Susan Jorstad for The Pocono Record was a very encouraging experience as well. Susan was a thoughtful interviewer and made me sound articulate in her article. With her permission, I’m including excerpts in this blog post. She refers to herself as “PR” for Pocono Record in her questions.
(from The Pocono Record, Saturday, November 28, 2015)
Your book, “More Fog, Please,” relives memorable moments from 30 of the 80 shows you directed.
This is a book about the people. You can’t put on a musical by yourself. For each chapter, I focus on a production and the people involved. It’s almost a collection of reminiscent short stories I worked with so many amazing, generous people over the years. When a show went up, I always felt by opening night, the show belongs to the cast. The cast has to take ownership, and that usually happened early in tech week, and I could spend my time with lights and sound. Every person involved with a show is vital. I always said to my cast, be sure to thank people for what they’ve done to make the show happen; you wouldn’t be out there performing if they hadn’t. My attitude was, ‘It’s your show and I’m glad I’m here to help.’
How did you help your actors, especially those new to performing, to ‘get into character’?
The director has to have the original vision – to take script and music and think through it. What are the authors trying to tell us? And then help your cast make it come to life. I did a character study for every character.
For ‘Carousel,’ I started with Julie and realized it’s really her story, not Billy Bigelow’s. The whole thing is about her love for Billy; nothing could shake that love. She’s fragile but strong. There are amazing women characters in that show set in the 1870s. When you approach the show from the characters, Billy becomes more sympathetic and loveable to the audience.
I loved shows that had depth and characters that really had something to say, like ‘Carousel’ and ‘Secret Garden.’ I also like shows with wonderful scores, which required an above ordinary commitment from the kids… ‘Into the Woods’ (1997?), ‘Ragtime’ (Black Sheep production at Sherman Theater, 2013). Ragtime was tough subject matter, the beginning of the Industrial Age, racial tensions … and wonderfully written. (Ragtime) had a cast from seven different schools. They became so close, they knew what they were doing was incredibly powerful.
You’ve also written a trilogy of fictional books, all highly rated on Amazon, all with a common theme of the value of music. Are those also based on real events?
In the first novel, “How I Grew Up,” the lead character is based on a close friend of mine from high school, a true story. The week before our ‘Carousel’ auditions, Anita’s estranged brother-in-law broke into her home and shot and killed both her parents. She auditioned only days after burying her parents, and played the role of Julie, a dramatic, emotional role. Her performance was an inspiration to everyone.
There’s a catharsis of becoming a character, to escape our personal lives. The experience opened my eyes to the power of creativity and especially of music. Being able to immerse herself into the role was an immense help to my friend. I watched her performance from the orchestra pit where I played harp.
Why this nonfiction book now, and how are your friends and former cast and crew reacting?
Eric Mark, an actor and journalist, who was one of my readers and mentor for my first novel, said to me, ‘You need to write about your years directing.’ I’d thought about retiring after “Bye Bye Birdie,” but it wasn’t the right timing. I knew I’d be leaving after “Tom Sawyer”. I told the cast at the cast party that this was my swan song.
Although you’ve retired from directing, you continue to give private voice lessons. What else do you have planned?
I am working on another novel, a sequel to “You Are My Song,” about a brother and sister who both have musical ability but who have very different journeys. I’ve been researching it for about a year because one of my characters suffers from bipolar disorder.
I’m thinking about a possible trip to the West Coast at some point. I’ve never been to San Francisco and I have friends living in the Bay area … friends from Oak Ridge, where I grew up.
And I’ll be the most supportive, delighted, entertained and enchanted member of the audience at the South High School show next spring. I may even sit near the front of the house.
Cover by Tristan Flanagan