As I was checking the website of the Waterville Opera House, I noticed that they were presenting one of my favorite musicals: Disney’s “Newsies” , so a plan to interview the director was hatched. In searching out information on the production, I saw what seemed to be a very familiar name, Debra Susi. A phone interview was arranged and the first question was based on my life 20 years ago when I lived in Pittsfield and taught art at Warsaw Middle School.

Q: Now, we did teach together, right?

Members of the cast of Disney’s Newsies the Musical embody the spirit of New York City! From left are Jarred Schmidt, Tabyr Briggs, Corrina Franzose and Jacob Sutherland. Kneeling is Cade Parker, left, and Laney Reardon.

Susi: Yes, we certainly did.

Q: How long were you at Warsaw after I retired?
Susi: Oh, gosh, I left Warsaw five years ago. So I was there for a while and I am now teaching at the high school, at Maine Central Institute. At Warsaw, I was teaching math and science after they cut the theater program.  When the opportunity came to jump up to the high school when they were looking for a theater teacher, I took it.

Q: So how does all this balance out as far as what you do with the Waterville Opera House and the productions they do there?
Susi: Well, it’s great. We don’t have a theater at MCI, as you know, and haven’t had one for years (we still perform in a gym), so the Opera House has been a learning lab for my students and surrounding students. I get to network my technicians and my actors. In fact, on Tuesday, I’ll be taking two classes; Tech 1 and Tech 2, down to the Waterville Opera House to work on the “Newsies” set. It’s an actual learning lab and we’ve had this partnership for probably four to five years now and my students get a chance to work side-by-side with professionals in the field in a variety of different areas of production. In fact, my Tech 1 and Tech 2 students are costume-designing “Newsies.”

Q: Cool!
Susi: It’s so cool, watching them research that time period and trying to understand what went on back then. As I’m sure you know, it’s based on a real strike that happened for two weeks in July of 1899. There are real-life characters based in that story and the students are understanding the correlation and making the big leap between the actual events back then and today. Any time I can get my students to live history by actually researching it and telling a story, I’m happy. It makes me happy.

Q: How long have you been working at the Opera House?
Susi: I’ve been working there for going on 18 years now.  I probably view Waterville as much as my home town because it’s my artistic heart and the opportunities that I’ve had down there in that community. I’ve been creating community and the opportunities that I’ve had for students and for community members to share talent. The talent and the skills we have in the central Maine area just blows my mind, Lucky.

Q: Now, because of the story line of “Newsies”, the use of area high school students is logical, but do you use that age group in all of your productions?
Susi: No, not always.

Q: How many productions do you have planned for the current season?
Susi: We have two musicals and three straight shows that we’ll be producing. That’s pretty standard, but sometimes we extend a little bit beyond that. With all of the movies and concerts and comedians that come into the Waterville Opera House now, compared to when I started 18 years ago, the Opera House and the organization looks very different. We’re now under the Waterville Creates! umbrella and that’s a large, creative organization with a mission and vision to expand arts and the creative arts industry in the central Maine region.

Q: Are those five shows you have planned all you can do in one season?
Susi: About six productions, maximum, is what we can do per year for shows. The stage is just busy, busy, busy!

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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