Susan's artist profile
Susan Stroupe is a collaborative theater maker, primarily working as a director, ensemble deviser, and teaching artist, who specializes in immersive and devised works of theater, often performed in non-traditional spaces. Throughout her career, Stroupe has also worked as a director, performer, writer, puppeteer, teacher, and collaborator in professional and professional community-based projects, with actors and nonactors of many ages and many abilities and disabilities, all around the country. She has lived and worked in Baltimore for the past decade, directing for and devising with independent professional companies around the city, and as a founding artist and Artistic Associate of Submersive Productions, as well as working with Baltimore Center Stage as a Teaching Artist, and as a Guest Director and Theatre History professor for UMBC. Focus and passion lies in theater in nontraditional spaces or arrangements, collaboratively devising pieces or working with scripts that challenge norms of race, gender, and genre.
When I start a new project with an ensemble of actors and designers, I always tell them one thing: my job as a director is to make myself obsolete to the performance by the time we get to opening night. Not that I don’t want to come to every performance (I often do), but to make clear to the ensemble that my goals as a director, whether working with a preexisting script or devising a new performance from scratch, is to cultivate a rehearsal room where everyone can trust each other and feel safe enough to take risks, to ask guiding questions that help performers and designers discover the most effective artistic choices, to keep my eye on the bigger picture so I can steer us all in the right direction, and in the end, step out of the way and trust the ensemble to run their show without needing me anymore.
Whether I’m working on a proscenium, scripted play with a theater company in Baltimore or working on a Core Team on a new immersive project with Submersive Productions, I strive to create a rehearsal room of empowered actors, designers, and crew who can grow together and work together to connect to their audiences in the most meaningful and powerful way possible, and the evidence of my work is found in how audiences respond to the performers, how deeply the actors are rooted in the work, and taken care of everyone involved in the process feels. Directing is deep work, it is internal work, often invisible to the audience, and I take my role as a shepherd of both the ensemble and the audience very seriously.
As a white theater maker in Baltimore, I also find my role as a theater maker and community member to be one of constant learning, reexamining of assumptions and biases, relationship building, and choosing projects that expand our collective imagination and history, whether by creating new work or revisiting "old" work with new eyes and/or new voices. Building a creative team of artists from diverse identities and backgrounds has long been a priority for me, as well as doing the self-reflective work I need to do as a white theater maker to make my rehearsal spaces as safe and consent-based as possible for all people in the ensemble.
Finally, in the wake of a total and catastrophic stoppage of all in-person theater in March of 2020, those of us who consider ourselves to be theater artists were forced to take a hard, clarifying look at what exactly is important and urgent about the complicated, collaborative art form that we have devoted our lives to.
From this time of reflection, several fundamental truths about the art and practice of theater emerged for me: first, that there is no substitute for the journey that performers and audience go on in a performance, live and in-person. Theater is a human impulse that stretches back to the beginning of humanity, and no advancement in technology will replace that very essential human experience. Second, the creation of theater is work, like any other, but heightened. It is complex, collaborative, and cannot be done in the crevices of life, which means that the circumstances under which we make theater must be safe, affirming, and fairly compensated for everyone involved.
Lastly, and this is a precious lesson I’ve learned from nearly a decade of working with Baltimore City youth as a teaching artist: what we choose to make theater about must be special. Film can depict ordinary life well; what we choose to put on stage, to go through live with an audience present, must be worth all our time. What theater does well is not giving answers, but holding space and time to explore complex questions. Moving forward I intend to continue using my life in the theater as a director, deviser, and collaborator making that kind of space, and doing what I can to give the artists I collaborate with the safety, guidance, and space to connect with audiences in profound and transformative ways.