After an education in psychology and a career in theater, Linda Sussman has developed healing storytelling workshops. When we met at The Beanery, she described her evolution from theater to the medium of storytelling.
LS: I think I was always connected to theater in my soul. I was writing plays in the third-grade. I think it’s a world and an art form that deeply belongs to me. After I left the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, I took acting training at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. I was immediately intrigued with the healing potential of theater work more than I was with putting on plays. There were classes where you could cathart, where you had permission to express emotion. There were some very profound experiences that I had during that time. But even then I was filled with a fervor to help and heal the world.
I was intensely involved in theater, but I knew if my shattered ideals regarding psychology were ever going to be reconstituted, it would have to come from a different direction that I had seen at the School of Social Welfare. Jungian psychology became of interest to me. My interest evolved from theater itself into theater in a healing context. About that time I saw Robert Bly. I was already tuned in to fairy tales through Jungian psychology, but what Robert was doing with them, the healing that was coming through the stories in his telling of them and his commentaries, just moved me. I wanted to find more about that, but I didn’t know how to do it.
Helena de Crespo’s “Shirley Valentine” has found overwhelming success at Oregon Stage Works. However, Helena is more than an actress. Fluent in Spanish and English, she has established theaters in Colombia, Costa Rica and in the United States. She currently is building a theater in Cambodia and organizing a multicultural theatrical experience here in the Rogue Valley. She regularly acts and directs in Portland.
As we dined on Callahan’s garden deck, Helena told me how she happened upon her remarkable career as an international theater director.
EH: You seem to be a person who has had a mission.
HdC: It turned into that, and I don’t know that that was conscious on my part. I was teaching at the University and the National Drama School in Bogota, Colombia. One day this guy came to me from Peace Corps.
Last season at Oregon Stage Works Dennis Klein directed the hilarious and terrifying mystery thriller “Death Trap.” Dennis and I met before a rehearsal of his next production, a free, late-night workshop of Sam Shepard’s “True West.”
EH: How did you come to direct at Oregon Stage Works?
DK: I drove by this theater. I had heard an advertisement on the radio. So I came in. I fell in love with this space because this place has a soul, it has a palpable feel. It is a theater: it has blood, sweat and tears of theater. I felt it. It washed over me. I loved the place, and so I wanted to be part of this. I wanted to share the experience and to help if I could. It’s been an interesting ride.
EH: How does being in theater affect family?
DK: It’s very difficult. It causes a lot of tension because it requires so much time. It’s not just the physical time, it’s the emotional time. It’s stressful on a family. Ask anybody who is married. They are on the edge of divorce all the time because it excludes the other person. It pushes them away, because you are so focused. The people you are working with become the most important people to you for a while. For families, that’s hard. Donna, my wife, has become involved in costuming. It’s something she loves to do. She has now become part of the theater group, which instead of being exclusive has become inclusive.
The extraordinary tour de force performance of Helena de Crespo in “Shirley Valentine” at Oregon Stage Works has made the one-woman-show a phenomenal success. Many who have seen the production see it again and bring their friends.
Helena de Crespo engages her audience in the interior monologue of Shirley Valentine, a woman struggling to reinvent herself at a time in life when the empty nest has become a solitary cage. Shirley Valentine weaves her saucy tales with “a laugh and a joke for everything.”
Helena’s performance reflects her exceptional talent, education and experience, plus her spirit of adventure and pure unadulterated courage. As Helena and I lunched on the deck at Callahan’s Restaurant, she gave me a few insights into her life in the theater.