Supporting creative work by women
Suzie Cho is a producer whose credits include the development of Broadway’s Irena’s Vow at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the original New York premiere of Murder in the First (winner of two Innovative Theatre Awards), and was lead producer of The Baby Dance with Invictus-Pub Theatre Company. When she’s not producing or acting, she works as a diversity trainer with the Anti-Defamation League. Her acting credits span across film, television and stage, including Law and Order, Inside Amy Schumer, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, as well as national commercials.
Suzie’s company Full Spectrum Theatre Company will produce Rabbit Hole at The Davenport Theatre in New York City October 7th through 24th. The play will be directed by Maria Riboli, who was interviewed by this blog.
Suzie spoke to Works by Women about her theater company, the best producing advice she’s received and what she’s learned from her work with the Anti-Defamation League.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell me about Full Spectrum Theatre Company.
SUZIE CHO: Full Spectrum Theatre Company was a dream of mine for almost a decade, and it took all the guts I had to finally take the plunge and launch this baby with my dear friends Ashley Ford (Associate Artistic Director, Producer) and Maria Riboli (Director, Producer). And now I’m thrilled that I finally did it! I wanted to create a theater company where diversity was the norm so that all Americans could see themselves represented on stage. I love that there are theater companies that focus on highlighting a specific ethnic community. I want to take this a step further and bring everyone together onto the same stage, interacting with each other and having common, every day relationships that we see every day in theater and entertainment. My ultimate goal is to normalize diversity so that it’s never an issue that you see a Latina actress playing the mother of an Asian actress, and no one feels compelled to reference adoption as a way to justify their different ethnicities. When we go to the theater, if we can accept a world where the stage is someone’s living room, and the audience isn’t really there, and the actors are actually these characters they’re pretending to be, why can’t we accept that people of color are also part of this world? Makes sense to me!
WBW: Your next production is Rabbit Hole? Why now? What excites you about producing it?
SC: Rabbit Hole is actually our first production! Besides being a beautifully written play by David Lindsay-Abaire, it is the perfect way to launch Full Spectrum Theatre Company because it’s focused on an average American family. I wanted to show that multiple ethnicities in a play, even in the same family, will not detract from its power. The story will still be relevant, and the characters will be just as relatable as ever because family dynamics are universal. I’m excited about producing it because the writing is so freakishly good! As a producer, I love that I can offer my actors the chance to be in a great play, and to offer up a great play to an audience. And if I may brag a little, I recently received a personal note from David Lindsay-Abaire sending us his “gratitude, well wishes, and best of luck.” Yeah, that excites me too!!!
WBW: What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received about producing? Or that you give about producing?
SC: When I first started producing, I was told to embrace that I would make lots of mistakes, and to learn from them. That has helped me get through a lot of tough moments. The best advice I offer is that you’re only as good as the people around you, so bring along people you trust and are excited to work with, and treat them well. Remember that you’re a team – your co-producers, your cast, your designers, everyone – and it’s a blessing when good people give you their time and energy. As soon as you take that for granted, it falls apart quickly. But if you appreciate what others are doing, magic is created.
WBW: How do you select your projects? What type of work inspires you?
SC: I love projects that explore the question, “How does love inspire us to behave, especially when we are struggling and conflicted?” I get inspired by work that delves into the human condition and ultimately reinforces hope. I’m not into work that leaves you feeling doomed and skeptical.
WBW: You’re also a diversity trainer for the Anti-Defamation League. Tell me about that.
SC: When I first started this work, I thought, “Oh yeah, I’m good at pointing out prejudice in others. I got this.” What I learned was that I also have prejudice, in fact everyone does to varying degrees, but that’s ok… that’s human… as long as we can look at it, cop to it and not act on it, and in fact learn from it, that’s what matters. The program the ADL teaches is designed to examine our own biases as well as others’, and to learn from them. When I felt the shift in my own awareness and saw my own growth during the five day Train-the-Trainer, that’s when I knew perceptions can indeed change. If you can feel the change within yourself, it gives you great hope that you can make a difference for others, too. And that’s what happens when I go to different communities to teach anti-bias and anti-bullying programs… lots of light bulb moments go off in the room and people appreciate it! It’s very rewarding!
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
SC: I see a lot of women taking charge of their own projects and holding leadership positions in independent theater. But for some reason, it dissipates as we move into larger realms of theatre like Off Broadway and Broadway. Although that’s changing, too. However, it’s still not balanced. I think it’s important for women to not fall into the trap of competing against each other, but to support each other and know that we’re all trying to do the best work possible. It’s also a challenge for men to deeply understand that there is indeed a “boy’s club” and to give more than lip service to advocating for more women writers, directors, producers, designers, leading roles for women, and equal pay. If we want true balance, both men and women will need to understand and tackle these issues collectively.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
SC: The women in independent theater give me great hope. We are growing in numbers, at least from where I’m standing. I see more writers, directors, and artistic directors than ever before taking on projects and supporting each other. And men in independent theatre seem very comfortable with that. And I do see that there are more women in the larger realms of the industry, too. I’m excited that Lisa Kron won the 2015 Tony for Best Book of a Musical, that Marianne Elliott won for Best Direction of a Play, and that I see more women’s names on the producer rosters of Broadway shows. So I do want to recognize that change is happening in American theater, and that gives me hope.
Full Spectrum Theatre Company’s production of Rabbit Hole runs October 7 through 24 at The Davenport Theatre in New York City. For tickets and information, visit www.fullspectrumtheatre.com.