- Natalie Wisdom
Talia Suskauer - Broadway Actress.
[Interview Date: October 22, 2020]
Elphaba in The National Tour of Wicked, Be More Chill and more.
Where were you on March 12, 2020? And what was the week leading up to it like for you?
I was in Madison, WI. I think we got there on March 10th. I got to my dressing room, and there were Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer. We were all just a little on-edge. That Wednesday, the 11th, we had sound check; we were getting into the theater; we were setting everything up—we had one show Wednesday, two shows on Thursday. After our matinee on Thursday, we got the email that Broadway shut down, so we were like, “ok, wonder when it’s going to be us…” Both shows that day, we were like, “This feels really weird. Should we be taking precautions? We’re hearing about this virus that is apparently taking over the world. Should we be taking precautions? Should we change how we’re acting and how we’re dealing with each other?”
I had a feeling we’d be shut down, but I had a lot of friends who were like, “This is not going to happen,” but then, of course, we heard Broadway was shut down. And at this point, it was only until April 12th or something like that. That’s what we all thought. The whole time, I was like, “Should I treat this show like it’s my last show?” And it wasn’t. That night, we performed on the 12th, and it felt really weird. It was very strange. There was this weird feeling of “Is this it? This has to be it.” When we came out for that show, we call it “map out” at the beginning of Wicked. The map went out, and the audience just erupted in applause. They knew. I think they could tell that this was the last show for them too. There was this palpable energy shared between onstage cast and audience. And they were just cheering, and I remember hearing it from backstage, because I’m not on yet. And I was like, ‘This is so special, and very sad.’ And they were with us the whole time, and it was like a “let’s say goodbye to this experience." I’ll never forget it.
The next day we got an email to come into the theater. We all came in, and we gathered on the stage. It was our company manager and stage manager, and they said, “This is it, until further notice.” One of our company members had been with the show for a while, and I think he knew this was going to be his retirement show. I’ll never forget. He came out for one of his scenes, and he was, like, giving it. I was watching this man give his last performance ever. And that’s when it hit me. This was it.
Were there any preliminary precautions made at the Wicked tour before the shutdown? For example, a cease on signing autographs at the stage door or company meetings about hand-washing?
Our last week in Baltimore, leading up to March 8th, we had no Stage Door autographs and no more backstage tours. Our producer came and implemented those things. And we were like, “Ok, that’s fine,” except it was hard, because I had a lot of family come in to Baltimore. We had also just finished signing a million posters for Broadway Cares and then we stopped, which was so sad. And they also amped up cleaning protocols.
Did you anticipate you would be away from tour for this long?
No. Definitely not this long. We’ve been here (in quarantine) for longer than I was out on tour, which is crazy. I opened September 24th. That was it. It hadn’t really been that long. I did not anticipate we’d be out this long. I did anticipate we would be out longer than they initially told us.
What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
It’s hard to say, because sometimes, I haven’t been sane. So, it’s been more of allowing myself to, not be ok when I’m not ok. I feel like everyone I’ve talked to about their quarantine has gone through different stages of quarantine; kind of like the stages of grief. There’s denial and anger—all these phases.
I tried to pick up a few new hobbies. I’ve been cooking a lot and baking. Spending a lot of time with family, because I’ve been home, and I’ve been trying to view it as, “when will I ever get this time with my family again?” Quality time as an adult, moving back in. I redid my childhood bedroom, so it’s an adult’s room, which is great. It used to be purple, and now it’s beige. Not green, but I got a green chair!
My boyfriend-I dragged him down with me, so he was stuck in my house for 5 months, which was amazing. I’ve been teaching a lot and coaching a lot which has been good. Taking voice lessons, trying to keep my instrument alive and going. Trying to find a fitness regimen that works for me and keeps me healthy and fit, because when you’re Elphaba, the role kind of does it for you. Other than cardio, I didn’t really have to go the gym.
What has been the most challenging thing about the past months since the shutdown?
Not hugging people. Not being able to socialize and see friends the way I normally would. Not being on tour, losing my life-style. Being on tour; you’re set, you have a tour family, you get into a groove. Not seeing my tour family every day. Not doing this show that is my dream. And also, just to tell the story all over the country is a gift, and not traveling is really hard. I went from being in a different city every three weeks to being confined to one place, and that’s the most drastic change you can make. Living in the moment-being forced to live in the moment. Everyone says that: “Always, live in the moment. Try to be present!” And now we actually have to be, because I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. A week from now, or a month from now.
What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?
Family. I think I’ve reconnected with a lot of people. I’ve had the time to. The time and mental energy and space, the time to call and talk to someone I haven’t talked to in years. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been able to socially distance, have some dates with some friends from high school, which has been really cool. I’ve been teaching a lot, and that has been wonderful and not something I would have had time to do on tour. I think there’s a new sense of purpose. I know I’m meant to do what I’m doing because I miss it so much. I’m meant to do this. I’m already grateful, but I know I will come back with a new sense of, ”Let’s do this.” Every single moment. Even in the moments when we’re so tired and our bodies hurt, I will be so happy to be doing this job.
What do you miss most about performing in Wicked?
I think just getting through the marathon every night! It’s a marathon and a journey, not just for the audience, but for myself. And every night is different, and I miss that. I miss the challenge of it all. And I miss my tour family. I miss the show. I miss telling the story with these people every night. I miss the audiences. I’m sad that when we go back, everyone is going to be wearing masks, so we won’t be able to see their faces. I love looking at people and telling the story to them and seeing how it affects them. I miss all of that. I miss singing this score every night. It’s so brilliant. And I miss bring green and popping green pimples! I even miss that!
What do you miss the most about theatre, in general?
I miss the audience. Interacting with our audience. Which I started to miss when we stopped our Stage Doors-interacting with the audience. This is everything to them! It changes people’s lives, and all you want to do is interact with people after the show, and it’s hard, because we can’t. This is a time when so many people need to escape, myself included. In a time of trauma, during the greatest wars of our country, people had a Broadway to escape to. They had live theatre, whether it be in New York or all over the country-that provided them an escape from their troubles for two to three hours a night. We don’t have that now. It’s not only devastating for audiences who can’t experience it; it’s also devastating for us-it’s cathartic for us to perform. We can get it all out onstage, and work through it onstage, and we can’t do this right now. And that’s really tough. They deem us non-essential. We’re the first industry to shut down. We’re the first industry to be considered non-essential and the industry that gets no relief, as an industry. But I would have to argue that we are one of the most essential industries. The medical industry provides relief in a way that we can’t compare to, but also, we provide relief for the head and the heart. It’s absolutely therapeutic. It’s tough. It’s sad. And that’s what I miss so much about theatre.
What’s your favorite theatre memory?
Being in a show: Probably when I was in Be More Chill, and I had a date to go on. I had all my family and my friends flown up from Florida, and they came in to see the show, and I was on for one of the characters. And this character’s biggest scene in the show was in Act Two. I was in a sexy, baby costume. It looked ridiculous. And, the only things onstage were a door unit and a bed. That was all I needed for the scene. So, I get onstage and I open this door, and there’s no bed. It’s just not there. I look into the wings, and I see ten people looking up. The bed is up in the flies. They’re trying to get it down, but it’s time for the scene to begin; I have to start. So, I was like, “OK, fifteen people in the audience.” My mom was there and knew what was supposed to happen. I do this whole scene and song rolling around on the ground. I’m waiting for the stage manager to call hold. I was literally like, “I’m on Broadway, and I’m on the floor right now. My whole family is here, and I’m twerking on the ground!” And finally, I finished the song, and they called hold! I think they couldn’t figure it out. And everyone is laughing and clapping and screaming. We all left the stage laughing. And then I had to do the whole thing again when the bed came in. I had a re-do! That’s my favorite. My whole family and it’s Broadway, just to show you that stuff happens!
And then my favorite viewing experience: It was the Fiddler on the Roof Revival with Alfred Molina. My grandpa took me, and we were in the very back row of the orchestra, and he got up at some point in the middle of Act One. And I couldn’t find him, and I looked behind me at Intermission, and he had made friends with this usher. He literally just got up to talk to this person after going to the bathroom…He got us moved to front row center, one of my first ever Broadway experiences. We were so close to stage, I could feel the heat of the actors, and there were some prop leaves on the stage. And right as the show ended, I took a leaf home with me. I was probably seven. So, it was really special. And I think I’ll always remember that. One of my first experiences.
What is the first thing you’re excited to do when theatre is back?
Oh my gosh. Just go do the show! Hug my friends, if I’m allowed to. My first entrance is running though this clock onstage, and I think I’ll just cry. I’ll probably break character and cry instantly, because it’s going to be just thrilling. And to hear Glinda’s first line. Her first line when she comes down, “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?” And then she has a line at the end of the show “My fellow Ozzians, we’ve been through a frightening time.” I’m supposed to be in a frozen hug with Fiyero; I’m going to start crying! It’s true. So much of Wicked is going to hit harder, just the way it’s been written. It’s going to hit harder than ever. And just to see all my friends! Knowing all my friends can be happy in their shows. It’s going to be so great.
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
Use this time to keep growing. Learn an instrument. That’s what I’m trying to do. Learn piano and ukulele. I’m trying, but it’s easier for younger folk, because they’re learning so much already. And just watch a lot of good TV and good acting. There’s a lot of theatre at your disposal online. Immerse yourself in everything you can, and just keep learning! There are online dance classes you can take. The learning doesn’t have to stop just because we can’t be in-person.
Favorite Broadway Musical: Well, I can’t say Wicked…I’m gonna say Ragtime!
Favorite role you’ve played: Elphaba
Favorite role you’ve yet to play: Can I say it hasn’t been written yet? It hasn’t been written yet.
Favorite Movie Musical: I’m going to have to say I think it’s Fiddler on the Roof. I think it’s perfect.
Movie that you think should be a musical: Well, it’s being made into one, but Devil Wears Prada, but I also think The Princess Diaries. Also, The Princess Bride!
Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and Tradition: I love Happy Trails. I think it’s awesome. Myself, what I have to do every day: I have to see and talk to everyone I’m going to see onstage before the show starts.
Favorite city on tour: Atlanta!
Fastest you’ve ever gotten your green make-up on: Fastest…My make-up artist does it. Fastest has been 10 minutes. Usually, it’s more around 15-20.
Favorite Dressing Room item: Probably my fan art. I like to keep the portraits and art that people have made. Or my essential oil diffuser.