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Susan Spain: “Believe that you can!”

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Passion is an often-used word that readily describes a person’s vested and emotional interest. Susan Spain is as dedicated and passionate as you can get. She is a multi-talented performer with deft skills as an actor and singer. I have admired her work on TV, film and music for some time.

If passion had a poster child, it would shine brightly with her picture. A native to the northeast, growing up in Montclair, New Jersey, Susan was one of four siblings born to two very supportive parents who still live in New Jersey. Susan’s passion for performing is part of her DNA. Perhaps she genetically got her talent from her mom, whom Susan describes as a triple threat. “My mom studied with the famous dance teacher Henry LeTang and she was a ballerina, singer and actor,” she affirmed. Although her mom gave up her career after she got married to raise her children, she credits her mom as being her biggest supporter growing up.

She’s a Natural!
“I have always loved performing,” Susan remembered. “In kindergarten, I was in a school play and I was the bareback rider. I was the girl riding on the horse and I needed to have a costume. My mother took pieces from her wedding dress and sewed my costume! My mom always tells the story that during the play all the other kids came out on stage and were just fine, but I came out and my arms were spread out wide!”

Susan explained that acting and music always nagged at her heart. Of course, just like any child, she always had dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer, but she always came back to entertaining people. That was her true love.

Susan participated in community plays and performed while a teenager and, staying true to her path, she graduated high school and attended Adelphi University in Long Island, New York, where she graduated and received her bachelor of fine arts degree. She will never forget her acting professor, Dr. Jacques Burdick, who taught Meryl Streep at Yale, for instilling in her
this sentiment:

“If there is anything in life you can do and be happy doing it, do it. “

After college, it took Susan two years of working in restaurants and other jobs to save up enough money to have professional photos taken. I was curious as to why she waited those two years and did not just jump in and start auditioning without professional photos and she revealed, “I always believed that if I did not take myself seriously and show up prepared, then no one would take me seriously. They would think I was unprofessional. Then I discovered people were showing up without headshots or using Polaroids, and I felt kind of like I’d wasted those two years.”

After her professional headshots were done, she was off and running, heading out to auditions and chasing every artistic opportunity to live her dream. No one can think about actors, particularly female actors, without wondering if they had the unfortunate and untoward experiences of the casting couch, described in the headlines that we see detailing sexual harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein and others who used the power of their positions to sexually assault women. Unfortunately, Susan too had such an experience that deeply affected her. When she was 18 years old, she had an agent who pitched to her that he was interested in representing her. When she went to the appointment and they sat down on his couch to go over an acting scene, he made an unwelcomed advance toward her. Until this interview with HERLIFE Magazine, she never shared this publicly, particularly not with her parents, because she was afraid of what would happen next. She knew if her father, who was a police officer at the time, found out, he would have killed the man. And she did not want her father getting into trouble trying to defend and protect her.
That experience affected her and made her more watchful and aware. In fact, for a brief period, she worked for a regional theater production company that housed the actors and crew. Susan was assigned to co-ed housing, and her bedroom door did not lock. She did not feel safe and requested to move to other housing. Instead of accommodating her, the production company tried to get her fired. Thankfully, the Actor’s Equity Association union successfully defended her.

Revealing this experience publicly for the first time was not easy for her and it is an honor that she recognized the safe space she was in to share this with our HERLIFE Magazine readers, because many other women have had similar situations in their careers and sharing helps us all.

Growing Success
As a testament to her respect, strength and commitment to herself and her art, Susan persevered. Her first success was being cast in the off-Broadway musical Mama I Want to Sing as the understudy for the role of Doris Winter. And yes, Susan is a spectacular singer who now performs as part of a Motown tribute band, Shadows of the ’60s, that books performances across the country, internationally and on cruise ships. “I love to sing and it’s ironic because when I was little, my grandmother said I could not sing my way out of a paper bag,” she laughed. “But I took lessons and went from a wispy singer to a belter.” She is commonly referred to as a Broadway Belter for her power vocals. “My experiences singing and performing have been some of the highlights of my life. One year, I performed in Berlin, Germany, on New Year’s Eve to a full stadium of people—it was magical.”

For most actors, the goal is to be a working actor; between gigs they work doing other jobs. Susan always had the restaurant industry to fall back on and worked in New York City restaurants on and off throughout her career. “It was kind of the ebb and flow of the business; you work, and then while you are waiting for another job, it’s back to waiting tables.”

She has done projects in film, being cast in the short film The Princess and the Pea, which was shown at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, toured the U.S. as Harriet Tubman in Freedom Train, and for ten months performed across Europe in a Broadway musical review. She has recorded multiple audiobooks, winning the coveted AudioFiles Earphones Award© for narration of After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson. Her biggest role to date was being cast as Rose Franklin in the Fox drama series Our Kind of People. Rose was one of the most challenging roles that Susan has undertaken because she portrayed an elderly bi-polar woman with dementia. “Because she is elderly, bi-polar and suffering from dementia, I knew hair and makeup would make me look the part, but I wanted to be sure to bring honesty and truth to the role as well, so I really had to study the effects of aging and memory loss on elderly people, and the effects of bi-polar disorder and bring that preparation with me to this role,” she explained. “One of the best compliments I received was from a production crew member who lives with bi-polar disorder and he thanked me for bringing light and truth to the role. And it was also wonderful to be in a cast of predominantly people of color. It was truly black excellence on display.”

Susan is no stranger to the Capital Region. She has taught acting to high school students at the acclaimed Proctors Collaborative School of the Arts in Schenectady, New York, and comes to Albany frequently. During COVID, she and her partner, actor Kevin Craig West, performed in a play filmed for Capital Repertory Theatre, also known as The Rep, that was streamed live. This past summer she directed a play at The Rep, Take Me with You by playwright Rachel Lynett, an African-American woman, and she will be the dramaturge and associate director for Harriet Returns, a new play at The Rep that will be touring and is expected to launch February 2023.

Creating Opportunity
She and Kevin, an Albany native, are to looking to give back to the Capital Region community, particularly to underserved BIPOC youth. They want to show and teach career paths in the performing arts that can be had, not only in front of the camera but also behind the camera. “You want to do good where you can have the greatest impact and we believe the Capital Region is the place,” she confirmed. They are currently in conversations with several potential strategic partners in the area to discuss projects that will bring together community leaders, arts and performing organizations, workforce development experts and young BIPOC filmmakers and artists.

The Future
And through all of her experiences and triumphs, Susan continues to dream and press toward her goals. She wants to be in a feature film and also be a lead character in another TV series. She is a writer, having penned two plays, a television pilot and short films; she is now working on getting those projects financed and into production.

“Stay true to yourself and have faith in yourself. They say you can’t; believe that you can. Don’t let anything get in the way of reaching your goal, no matter how long it takes,” she offered.
Susan is inspired by the greats: Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll and Meryl Streep, to name a few. And it is not surprising. They all have in common the artistic values that Susan holds dear. They have brought care, consideration and authenticity to every role they have been in. Susan is bringing her truth to power and it will be exciting to see what this passionate artist does next. ®

You can check out Susan on Instagram, Facebook and