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Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog: Susannah Mars promises a fun evening of song for gala fundraiser

An opportunity to support the Columbia Center for the Arts is coming up on May 31 with a fundraising gala “C’est Si Bon,” (Google says the translation is ‘it’s so good’) — starring Portland actor and singer Susannah Mars. The festivities start at 6 p.m.

One interesting thing I found out about Susannah before I talked to her the other week was actually about her father, Kenneth, who has an extensive list of credits for film and television — everything from “Young Frankenstein” (1974) (pretty sure I’ve seen) to voiceovers in the 1989 film “The Little Mermaid” (pretty sure I haven’t seen).

As I guessed, and confirmed here, there’s no doubt growing up with someone who worked in film and television can influence your career path.

Just like her father, Susannah’s work on stage and in the music studio is surprisingly varied. And some tips on how to handle these multiple roles is nicely summarized here.

Although TV and movies can be hugely influential, community theater events can offer even more interaction. In her words, sometimes you need to head out into the world and see what’s what. If you can swing it, May 31 can be one of those times.

Interview with Susannah Mars

How did you get connected with the CGCA for doing the benefit show?

That’s a good question, I know some representatives came to see the production of Fiddler on the Roof that I was in at Portland Center Stage, where we started our conversation about doing a concert at Hood River

Do you get to spend time in the Gorge at all?

I have a little bit — about 2 years ago my husband asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday and my sister inlaw said there’s a wonderful bike trip, the one where you go through the big tunnels, so we rode our bikes there all day and then we had a fantastic dinner at 3 Rivers Grill. We really enjoyed it, walked through town, did some wine tasting. Also, both of my daughters run track, so we go out to track meets at the high school from time to time.

You’re an actor, performer, and a singer, and from what I’ve gathered online some of this influence must have come from your dad, to do this?

Yeah, I think growing up with my dad being an actor and my mom, who was a Juilliard graduate and an opera singer, too, — that’s how I grew up, really, surrounded by the arts.

It was fun looking at your dad’s bio on all the TV shows and movies he was in – did you get to go to any of those movie or tv filming sets?

Yes, I did, I spent a lot of time with my dad, we were really close, I liked to go to work with him and we sure did that.

Can you tell us what’s in store for the upcoming fundraiser gala?

Well, there is a French theme for the evening, so I have a lot of really fun songs about being French or are in French or have a funny little sidebar about France.

We’ll have songs from American musical theater, pop songs, and some traditional French songs. We’ve got a song by Dave Frisberg called “Another Song about Paris,” which is really delightful, “Paris by Night,” which is from “Victor Victoria,” we’ve got a set of Irving Berlin, and Gershwin, and then a set about movie stars, speaking about my connection to my dad, and various people I’ve met.

There’s one song on one of my CDs called “Humphrey Bogart,” that I’m gonna do, and then I’ve got one about another movie star that will remain nameless, because I don’t want to give away the surprise….

Will you be bringing a band?

A fabulous pianist named Bill Wells, that I’m sure that will add to the atmosphere.

What do you think community theater offers people that’s different from staying home and watching a movie?

Right now I’m doing a show at the Repertory Theater called “The Quality of Life,” and in my mind, it really gives people the opportunity to experience a story in a large group, and the response that occurs is palpable.

I think it really encourages conversation about interesting topics, things that aren’t necessarily being covered in television.

I don't think TV encourages people to converse, you watch something and then go to sleep, or you’re watching it and having dinner, it doesn’t really encourage conversation, but in the theater, you go out there, you drive out there, sometimes you go to dinner, and really make a night of it. It can really encourage a really wonderful conversation, and I really treasure that when I hear about it.

Well, I think the CGCA is providing a lot of opportunities for that.

A regional theater is exciting when you get a chance to see what people have been creating.

You’ve also been involved in making music CDS…

Yes, I’ve got three, and I’ve got another one coming out, an original cast album of a show I did in Seattle called “Watt,” about the life of James Watt, who was the secretary of the Interior under the Carter administration. I played the wife, Leilani, and I had to do a lot of background reading for this, it was really interesting because I didn’t know much about him.

For you, what are the main differences between being onstage or being in a music studio?

Being in a studio recording is a lot of fun, because you get to do a lot of takes and try different things and see what works, and it’s very collaborative process.

On stage, you just have to step up and live with what happens in the moment, versus having an opportunity to change things. You really can’t say “let’s do that again,” on stage (laughs). When you’re on stage, the audience collaborates, and that’s a lot of fun, you really have another entity there.

From your experience, if someone was wanting to get into theater and try it, what piece of advice would you give that person?

I would take a class and see if it’s your cup of tea. Keep exploring classes and read as much as you can about it, there’s tons of DVDs about different actors and acting methods, and get as much wonderful life experience under your belt because all the characters you’re going to be playing, whether singing or acting, are going to be people who are going to be having all sorts of interesting experiences — which you might share, and some of which you don’t.

Go out into the world, learn as much as you can. See if it’s the art that fits your temperament, and see if it fits with what you want to do.

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