Suanne Braun is an actress capable of pursuing many genres of performance and doesn’t shy away from a challenge. I chatted to her about her recent challenge – the latest Showtime Challenge to stage a full-scale musical in just 48 hours – and her acting career to date.
First of all, do tell me about 48 Hour Musicals and your role in Thoroughly Modern Mille, it sounds really exciting!
What an extraordinary thing to have been a part of. 48 hours to stage, choreograph, orchestrate and produce a West End musical! The pressure was immense and it was one of the most exhilarating, terrifying and exciting things I’ve ever been a part of. The company, Showtime Challenge, have done several of these, so it’s run with military precision. The principals are given their scripts and scores about six weeks ahead of time to learn but rehearsing together is against the rules.
At 7.30pm on the Friday, there’s a countdown and you’re off! 48 hours of intense rehearsals and then the show on the Sunday night. I’m so very pleased that I decided to audition and that I got to play Mrs. Meers. It’s a brilliant part and the comedy glue of the piece I think. She is an untalented actress who is also the criminal Daisy Crumpler, on the run from the law and so adopts a “disguise” as the Chinese proprietor of a hotel for young ladies. In actual fact she is shipping them off to the Orient and into white slavery! Although dark, somehow the writers managed to make her such a rounded, hilarious character. I had a ball playing her and even got to tap and sing in Chinese. The proceeds of the evening go to a charity and this year it was Mind. I’m thrilled we manage to raise so much money for such a valuable and worthy charity. For more details check here: http://www.showtimechallenge.co.uk
Last year you played Mary-Marie in Cougar The Musical. What was it like to be part of a premiere and did you enjoy playing the role?
I loved playing Mary-Marie! She is a serial Cougar and it was such fun to play someone so utterly uninhibited, sexually free and so completely sure of herself. We were blessed with a dream company – Dawn Hope, Pippa Winslow and Barnaby Hughes (who was our gorgeous toy boy). I did spend A LOT of time in leopard print and vertiginous heels though! Our creative team too (Patricia Benecke –director, Racky Plews– choreographer and Neil MacDonald-musical director) were perfection and I think every department just got the humour and feel of the piece. We were particularly lucky that the creator of the piece, Donna Moore was so open to our suggestions and ideas. For me, that was a dream as I was able to incorporate my stand up , my musical theatre & acting background into one canvas. When you’re in a premiere, you have no idea how it will be received. You spend your time in a bubble and for 5 weeks during rehearsals, you’re trying new things and not sure how they will land with an audience or IF they will land at all. Then suddenly, you have an audience and there’s this feeling that everyone has taken a large inhalation of breath and as the curtain comes down at the end of the piece, there’s a mass exhalation and a release. I love that!! The show did very well at the Belgrade and I hope it gets to have a second life here in the UK as it seems to resonate so well with audiences. There have been productions all over the world now so I say onwards for our Cougars!
What led you to a performing career and what career do you think you would have pursued if you hadn’t taken this path?
Actually my cousin is responsible for my start in the business as she mailed a photograph of me to the producers of the musical Annie when I was 10. I was called to an open audition with hundreds of other young girls but I waited my turn and when I got up to sing, although I was so nervous, I felt oddly at home. After a long rehearsal period, I remember the curtain going up on press night as the opening bars of Maybe played and I felt totally and utterly at home. I also remember being about 6 or 7 and my mum took me to see The Sound Of Music. I was entranced and at interval I asked my mum what it was called. She didn’t understand what I meant and when I said I knew that the children weren’t really Captain Von Trapp’s children, she replied that it was called acting. I remember sitting bolt upright and saying “THAT’S what I’m going to do when I grow up”. And the feeling has never changed. I feel like acting picked me rather than the other way around. I’m not sure what I would have done if it hadn’t been this industry as it’s truly the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I have recently however, started flirting with the idea of directing. So who knows what the future will bring?
What has been your most memorable role to date and why?
Oh that’s a hard question to answer as they are all memorable for various reasons. However the one that springs to mind immediately is the role of Alison in the world premiere of I Have Life, based on the book of the same name. This was a truly astonishing production to be a part of and based on a true story. In 1994 Alison was abducted by 2 men, raped and brutally stabbed. She was disembowelled and had her throat slashed 17 times. She was thrown out the car by her attackers and left for dead. However defying ALL the odds, she survived and today is a successful motivational speaker who gives talks all over the world. It’s such an extraordinary story- both harrowing and uplifting and it presented so many challenges in bringing it to life on stage. It was also a mammoth task playing someone who is very much alive and who was around during the rehearsal process. I felt a true sense of responsibility and it was hands down the most challenging role I’ve ever played. Again I was so fortunate to work with a stunning company of actors and a brilliant director but I spent the 6 weeks of rehearsals vacillating between a sense of achievement and moments of total self doubt and fear. I know this sounds corny but every time I got frightened, I kept thinking of Ali and what she had been through for real and that gave me the strength to portray her as truthfully and tell her remarkable story as honestly and sensitively as possible. I’ve done the piece twice now in 2 separate runs and in all the years I’ve been a professional actor, I’ve never experienced a response from audiences like this. People were weeping, cheering and we had standing ovations nightly, particularly when Alison was in the audience and came up on stage afterwards. It was remarkable and I felt such pride in telling her story. I sincerely hope we get to bring the piece to the UK as that’s always been our dream. For more info on the play, click here: https://www.facebook.com/IHaveLifeAlisonsJourney/
Are there any roles that you’ve an ambition to play?
Plenty!! Musically- Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Momma Rose in Gypsy, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeny Todd, Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret and Desiree in A Little Night Music. Also- Lady Macbeth, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Cleopatra in anything and I’d love a part (no matter what) on a great sitcom like Episodes. Oooh- there are SO many roles!
What is your advice for anyone wishing to go into ‘the business’?
This is a relentlessly tough industry and it can be absolutely brutal and heartless so my advice would be this- if you can see yourself happily doing something else, than pursue that. If however you cannot imagine your life without performing, then go for it! I think that way, you will always manage to find work and creative satisfaction. Also I’d say that remember a career is a lengthy thing. Don’t focus on the sprint but rather the marathon. I see so many younger artists focused solely on where they are now, not thinking about the longevity of a career and how to sustain it. It’s not just about getting the work but about sustaining it. That and your income, sanity and creativity for the long haul.
If you could have a dinner party with five famous people, alive or dead – who would they be and why?
Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Ella Fitzgerald, Ira Gershwin and Robin Williams. Why? Can you imagine the conversation? And then the songs post dinner? Sublime! I could think of another 5 people to make up the rest of the party too. Why stop at 5?
Favourite things (can I have your first reaction to these questions, please?):
Again I can’t pick one! Eek! Top 3: This Is Spinal Tap, Young Frankenstein and When Harry Met Sally.
Most recently, Jerusalem with Mark Rylance and my friend Caroline Faber playing Piaf at the Bolton Octagon.
Now that would be telling wouldn’t it? I have had some gorgeous ones though.
Table Mountain. When I see it, I know I’m home.
Favourite moment from your career?
I think when I got my first big laugh on stage. I remember it so clearly and afterwards a director who I admired greatly told me I had “funny bones. Every night for the rest of the run- that bit of dialogue became my tutor and knowing that I could really make people laugh changed everything for me. It’s what spurred me to try stand up and although terrifying, making people laugh has been such a gift for me.
Huge thanks to Suanne for her time, I strongly suggest watching out for this wonderful lady in future projects, I’ll be sure to be in the audience whenever possible 🙂