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Work Samples

R/J (Strand Theater, 2023)

Role: Director. R/J was an adaptation of Romeo & Juliet conceived by O'Malley Steuerman and Betse Lyons, adapted script by Aladrian Crowder Wetzel and Elizabeth Ung, as well as significant contributions from the acting ensemble. Centering queer experiences and bodies of many genders and shapes, R/J both updated and re-explored the original text in a way that reminded us all why that play is so enduring.

Katalepsis (Submersive Productions, 2023)

Role: Core Team member with a focus on acting and dramaturgy/world-building. While performed in the spring of 2023, Katalepsis was originally conceived in 2019, which was deeply ironic given that the narrative centered on artists isolated by a deadly pandemic. In the most simplest terms, Katalepsis was about humans who find themselves living in a time when humans are no longer the dominant species, and how we find ways to connect to each other when most paths to connection are gone.

Excerpt from HT Darling's Incredible Musaeum (Submersive Productions, 2017)

Excerpt from HT Darling's Incredible Musaeum (Submersive Productions, 2017) Role: Co-Director (Performance) with Lisi Stoessel and Susan Stroupe. "The Mastodon Scene" is the culminating scene of the two-hour devised, immersive production of HT DARLING'S INCREDIBLE MUSAEUM. This scene was the first time all the characters and audience were in the same space, where all the narrative threads came together for the end of the narrative of the two protagonists (Trustina Sabah's Aku Maxilla/The Humanoid Specimen & Sarah Olmsted Thomas' HT Darling).

The Goodies (based on the Salem Witch Trials, 2017)

The Goodies (based on the Salem Witch Trials, 2017) Role: Conceiver & Director. THE GOODIES was an ensemble devised play, produced by Iron Crow theater in 2017.


About Susan

Baltimore City

Susan Stroupe's picture
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.... more

Director: R/J (Strand Theater)

Role: Director.   R/J is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, centering the bodies and experiences of queer, trans, and fat people not as the objects of tragedy, but as the subjects of  one of the most famous love stories of all time.  Performed at the Strand Theater in  Baltimore in June 2023.

The project was conceived by  Baltimore theater makers Betse Lyons and O'Malley Steuerman, who asked me to come on as Director.  Over the course of several years of development in the pandemic, we cast a diverse ensemble of actors to work with writers Aladrian Crowder Wetzel and Elizabeth Ung to adapt the script, only keeping in tact the Shakespearean language between Romeo and Juliet. 

While I often work with experimental and devised work, I love working with and directing classical text like Shakespeare, and I love digging into the founder of English language theater all these centuries later.  Not because Shakespeare is perfect, but because the texts are wide and deep enough to find relevance and profundity every time.  Working with the original text, the ensemble easily found connection to two families who were doing their best to keep their biological and chosen families safe.  For this project, my job was not only to guide the actors in character creation and staging, but also to help them create an ensemble of trust, interdependence, and collaboration for an epic and vulnerable project.

Core Deviser, Acting and Dramaturgy: Katalepsis (Submersive Productions)

Role: Core Deviser with a focus on acting and dramaturgy.  Performed the Peale Center's newly renovated basement in the spring of 2023, Katalepsis was a show three years in the making; we began initial concept meetings in the fall of 2019, with the intent of having our traditional project length to bring it to production.  And then the pandemic happened.  More than just being a show conceived in the pandemic, the concept for Katalepsis, laid out to collaborators in 2019, was about a pandemic, and so the process for this show took many twists and turns as we wound our way through one of the most difficult eras of our lifetimes. 

No longer needing to explain the emotions of being in a pandemic to our audiences, we sent the world of the show into the far future and instead of the logic of a pandemic, began to focus first on the effects of long-term isolation, the nature of creativity and creation, and eventually, the shift of philosophy and focus when humans are no longer the dominant species. 

Much like previous Submersive shows, we set Katalepsis in a time and place one could call "dystopian," but were more interested in envisioning alternative futures to the ones in the steady stream of books, films, and TV filled with violence, domination, and grim endings.  What if rather than fear, we started with creativity and wonder?  What if rather than mysterious corporate or alien overlords  enslaving the rest of humanity, we followed the natural evolution of mycelia to be the dominate species? 

Katalepsis was the most challenging show we've ever done, and in the end we found that audiences  responded in deeply emotional and resonate ways. 

Core Deviser, Acting and Dramaturgy: rECHOllection (Submersive Productions)

rECHOllection (Submersive Productions, 2021) Role: Core Divising Team with a focus on performance and dramaturgy. rECHOllection was an immersive, devised performance created in the midst of pandemic.  Originally started as research and devising for a future Submersive show, rECHOllection became its own performance, and Submersive's first in-person show since February 2020. Set in the near future, rECHOllection invited audiences into a "temporal rift" in Druid Hill Park to interact with Baltimoreans of 2032, who were also there to make connections in a time of great isolation. Performed in Oct/Nov 2021, we were surprised to find that piece really connected with audiences of all ages, and that our audience members found the open-ended format to be extremely relaxing and meaningful, giving them space and time to make connections without the pressure of a narrative.

Director: This Remains (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

This Remains was a site-specific, ensemble-devised show directed by Susan Stroupe, created with UMBC students.  It was the first in-person show at UMBC since the fall of 2019, and was performed in the spaces outside the Performing Arts Building.  Audiences traversed the spaces with Guide characters through a world between the living and the dead, meeting the Lost Roamers and witnessing the stories of the Oracles.

Artist process statement:  This Remains marked my first time directing a fully devised, immersive performance working with student performers, designers, and crew, as well as the first time UMBC had embarked on such a large-scale project.  Students created original characters based on research into myth and folklore from different cultures, wrote their own scripts of new myths folktales, as well as dialogue to improvise with the audience.  Over the course of devising, students collaborated on scenic and costume design, as well as learned how to give each other feedback for work that was in process and deeply personal.  Our student stage management team learned an abundance of new skills as they not only had to learn about how to manage a show that was in process, but also how to manage and keep safe an audience that needed to be divided in groups and travel to all the different scenes without running into each other missing any stops.  The show was highly successful, with most performances sold out and students from all over campus suddenly paying attention to what was going on at the Performing Arts Building. 

Every step of this show was both a challenge and a joy, and what continues to stick with me is the transformations the students made as they explored often far outside their previous experience of acting, design, or stage management, and the pride they clearly felt in themselves for their artistic growth.

  • This Remains poster

    Poster for This Remains
  • This Remains Performer

    In this photo, student Michelle Chaney performs her original short piece in which she rewrote and re-imagined the telling of Rapunzel, using puppets and found objects. She created a beautiful, minimal text that she juxtaposed with an increasingly vulnerable movement-based narrative for her character, and I heard from many audience members how transformative and profound her piece was. Additionally, I heard from many faculty how surprised they were by how much Michelle seemed to have bloomed as a performer. Photo by Kiirstn Pagan
  • This Remains Guide.jpg

    For This Remains, we had four students take on the role of a guide, creating an original character who would lead the audience around to the different storytelling stations of the Oracles. Each guide character was vastly different and students who took on these roles had to sharpen their skills in engaging directly with the audience the entire show while both staying in character and also keeping an eye out for any mishaps or slow-downs in case they needed to adjust their pace or reroute.
  • This Remains Performer

    The third group of characters were the Roamers, who acted as tricksters and clowns, roaming freely among traveling audience and storytellers, often adding interstitial or improvised scenes with audience and Guides as the show went on.

Core Deviser, Dramaturg, Performer: MASS/Rabble (Submersive Productions)

Role: Core Devising Team (with Lisi Stossel, Glenn Ricci, Ursula Marcum), Devising Dramaturg, Ensemble Performer. As our bodies move, we tell a story. Where we have been, where we are going, what we hold on to, what we let go of. When bodies move in masses, they tell a larger story. Hope, fear, war, famine, the search for a better life. What does it mean to be just one body moving in humanity’s great crowd? This is a movement piece. Prepare to be moved.

“MASS/RABBLE” had the audience of up to 100 join a diverse ensemble of thirty movers to explore themes of mass migration and the borders and boundaries that separate us. The devising rehearsal process took place over several stages and many months, going through an evolution from conceptional ideas and images to a wordless physical narrative, through much physical training, improvisation, ensemble building, and dramaturgical discussion. 

My role was two cull and curate the wide array of ideas and concepts we were putting into the show into the kinds of leading/open questions that would help the ensemble turn concept into narrative movement, as well as to keep a targeted eye on how the show was shaping us as a whole, particularly in how we involved/invited our audiences in a wordless movement piece.  Additionally, I was for the first time part of the performance ensemble in a Submersive production (since being a Founding Member my role has always been as a director), which was a challenge for me to balance my process as a performer with my leadership position as a Core Deviser and Dramaturg for all the performers.

Core Deviser: Institute of Visionary History (Submersive Productions)

The Institute of Visionary History and Archives of the Deep Now was an immersive episodic series by Submersive Productions.  Six separate episode with eight performers, who investigated their own pasts and histories to created immersive "experiments" that a small audience would partcipate in in three parts: Induction, Experiment, Debrief.  The Institute of Visionary History was  secret society that was part fiction and part history of Baltimore and the Peale Museum,  and became the framing device for the six episodes, with anonymous researchers from the past having asked open and leading "scientific" questions that were answered by "parting the thin veil" in the Experiment Room.

Since the concept was complicated, we on the Core Team (myself, Glenn Ricci, Ursula Marcum, and Josh Aterovis) broke down the process into three parts:  1. The Induction, where audience was introduced to the IVH, introduced to the experiment/question they'd be working on, and inducted into the Society as a researcher; 2. The Experiment, where the audience, deputized as researchers would enter the main experiment room on the third floor of the Peale, interacting with both the space (we built a wall that was essentially a giant puppet) and a performer who would interact with them in a number of different ways; 3. The Debrief, where the audience would go to a separate room to discuss with each other their findings, fill out a data sheet with different questions, and interact with more dramaturgical sources that might shed more light onto the topic. 

Each episode was an entirely different world, and through both the questions we posed as the IVH and the pieces created by the 8 performers, we traversed time and space in innumerable ways, hopefully helping our audiences feel both reconnected to and disoriented by a past narrative they thought they understood.  Our intention of the piece was to tear whole in the narrative of our history, in order to add in some new mythologies, narratives, and voices that may have previously been hidden.

  • Episode One: You Think You Know Me

    Episode One had the audience encountering a Harriet Tubman they probably had never before, inviting them to ponder how we each can contribute to preventing catastrophe, and our own complicity in the whitewashing of radical historical figures.
  • Episode One: You Think You Know Me

    Episode One had the audience encountering a Harriet Tubman they probably had never before, inviting them to ponder how we each can contribute to preventing catastrophe, and our own complicity in the whitewashing of radical historical figures. We had two actors devising and performing this piece: Rachel Recking and Tina Canady.
  • The Induction Ceremony

    This photo is of a rehearsal for the Induction (so our actors for Episode One would know what the audience experienced), in which audience members were introduced to the Institute, introduced to the question of the experiment through photos and objects, and asked to take an oath of secrecy to join the Institute.
  • Episode One: You Think You Know Me

    A climactic moment of Episode One was when Harriet began to panic and sequestered herself, and the audience was required to create a prayer out of letter tiles to show up for her and bring her out of her moment of darkness. This was one of many of the very profound prayers that a group of audience had to collaborate on.
  • Episodes Two-Five Quartet

    This is The Quartet for the middle four episodes. We were interested in making space for the Asian-American artists in our community, as they are often largely unrepresented in Baltimore art. Each performer/deviser created a singular piece after, as a quartet, they did initial ensemble work of connecting themes. Creator/Performers from Top Left: Mika Nakano, Kim Le, Cori Dioquino, Elizabeth Ung
  • Episode Six: A Horse by the Tail in the Night

    Lisi Stoessel and Francisco Benavides were the core deviser-performers on this 8-hour durational piece. Because of its length, we could not rehearse the piece all the way through, and so much of our time as a team was spent in figuring out smaller moments, figuring out how the performers and we as the production team would cue each other and help the piece move along, and creating a "tome" that determined the order of events.
  • Episode Six Debrief

    Because the piece was so long, we wanted audiences to be able to watch as much as they wanted even when they weren't in the Experiment Room. Audiences would buy tickets for one hour at a time, and after that, they were invited to stay in the Debriefing room, directly across from the Experiment Room, where they could watch the piece on a live feed, watch Glenn Ricci perform live sound, and contribute to the dramaturgy of the piece (pictured here).

Director: LA LLORONA and THE ORPHAN SEA in Rep (Cohesion Theater)

In 2018, Cohesion Theatre brought me on as director for an ambitious project:  two full-length plays in Repertory with each other, with the same cast of 9 actors performing in both.  Cohesion had selected the first play, LA LLORONA by Cecelia Raker, a new play about the Southwestern/Latinx world legend told through the narratives of three modern-day teenage girls with very different cultural backgrounds.  After reading that play, I researched (through the New Play Exchange) a complimentary play, and chose Caridad Svich's THE ORPHAN SEA, a play also based on mythology (The Odyssey), but with a very different style.  LA LLORONA, with surreal elements, was largely naturalistic, while THE ORPHAN SEA was primarily abstract poetry. 

The 9 actors we cast were a diverse group of performers who were challenged with learning two worlds, two roles, and in the case of THE ORPHAN SEA, doing a large amount of devising, both in movement and in the script.  The script itself is largely left to interpretation, broken up only into scenes of the three choruses:  The Penelope Chorus, the Odysseus Chorus, and the City Chorus.  LA LLORONA required an enormous amount of dramaturgical research, both of the myth and of the specific, disparate indigenous, colonialist, and modern cultures of New Mexico.

  • Cast of The Rep (with LA LLORONA playwright Cecelia Raker)

    We were fortunate to have Ceceila Raker join us for the beginning of our process, and pictured here, the last performance of LA LLORONA. From L-R: Chara Bauer, Laura Malkus, Christian Gonzalez, Emily Sucher, Jonathan Jacobs, Natanya Sheva Washer, playwright Cecelia Raker, Mani Yangilmau, Mia Ybarra, director Susan Stroupe, Mika Nakano, Stage Manager Betse Lyons.
  • The Orphan Sea

    The City Chorus of THE ORPHAN SEA
  • The Orphan Sea

    The Odysseus Chorus of THE ORPHAN SEA
  • The Orphan Sea

    The Penelope Chorus of THE ORPHAN SEA
  • The Orphan Sea

    The reunion of the Penelope and Odysseus Choruses of THE ORPHAN SEA
  • La Llorona

    La Llorona (Mani Yangilmau) at the Gates of Heaven in LA LLORONA.
  • La Llorona

    Molly (Mia Ybarra) encounters her ancestors through a mirror in LA LLORONA
  • La Llorona

    La Llorona (Mani Yangilmau) stalks Maria (Natanya Sheva Washer) in LA LLORONA.
  • La Llorona

    Rachel (Emily Sucher) and Maria (Natanya Sheva Washer) become friends in LA LLORONA.

Conceiver & Director: THE GOODIES (Iron Crow Theater)

THE GOODIES was an ensemble devised play, produced by Iron Crow theater in 2017. The concept was of a modern retelling of the Salem Witch Trials, through the lens of contemporary racism, and what has now come to be called "cancel culture."  

With a cast of all women of color, we started with the question: "What if we believed the teenage girl accusers of Salem?" and, as an ensemble, created characters and wrote a script about a group of high school girls who mysteriously become ill due to the racism they experience in school, and the complex and tragic way of the adults in their lives preferred to shut them up by purging the "racists" from the school and saying it was fixed, rather than dig deeper to uproot the system of racism that poisoned everyone.

As a white artist who conceived and directed this piece, I knew that I needed to have the cast of actors of color lead this process--it was their personal stories and experiences that became fictionalized and tied together into a narrative, and while it was a very difficult play for them to perform and for audiences to experience, I believe everyone (including myself) walked away forever changed.  My desire was for what I knew to would be a majority white audience to feel implicated at some point, to reexamine how they view the Salem Witch Trials: not as religious fanatics gone insane (something that liberal white people can easily distance ourselves from), but a highly intelligent, purity-pursuing modern people, from whom the White people of the US have inherited the majority of our culture.

  • The Goodies Opening

    The opening and closing of the piece were collaboratively written by the cast, creating the idea of an epic, mythological character of "The Teenage Girl."
  • The Goodies

    The set of THE GOODIES was intentionally sparse, using only items found in schools that fluidly moved through different scenes, just like the actors did through different characters. Each actor had a "base" teenage girl that was their primary focus, but they all each played at least one other character if not two, a teacher or administrator at the school. Props and set pieces transformed over the course of the show to elevate the intensity and reality of the narrative into stylistic allegory.
  • The Goodies Projections

    In the devising process, each actor created a nightmare for their character based on the pressures and oppressions they experienced at school. Justin Johnson created illustrations that became the background for those nightmares, which served as the analogy for the "attacks" on the Salem girls in history.
  • The Goodies

    This is from towards the end of the play, when the world, through Twitter (represented by illustrated projections and sticky notes the actors "posted" to their own bodies), suddenly turns on the girls after previously pushing them to keep naming racists. Social media was a huge driving force of the plot; in the rehearsal process we explored how the internet is the new New World, where we don't quite know what lurks around every dark corner.

Co-Director (Performance), Core Deviser: HT Darling's Incredible Musaeum (Submersive Productions)

A huge undertaking of space and ensemble collaboration, HT Darling's Incredible Musaeum was devised, immersive piece, conceived by Lisi Stoessel and devised by a group of directors (myself included), designers, puppeteers, and actors.  Using all four floors of the Peale Museum (at that point not open to the public), HT Darling started in Lisi's mind as a small piece about the cabinet of curiosity of eccentric explorer HT Darling (played by Sarah Olmsted Thomas), and turned into a massive intersecting narrative of six characters and whole host of alien specimen that explored colonialism, the morality of museums, the concept of a "hero," and humanity's unending quest to secure our legacy and achieve immortality. 

The piece was challenging on so many levels; for me as a director, with a background of analyzing history through the lens of postmodernism, anti-racism, and feminism, I focused much of my work in this piece on helping the performers create characters and a narrative that told a seemingly familiar story of exploration and conquest in ways that both drew the audience in and knocked them off balance, that required the audience to really question what their modern role in institutional racism and sexism is through encountering characters from the "past" who don't act the way we expect them to.  We strove to turn the traditional white male explorer narrative on its head without condemning any of our characters--a practice which Submersive started with Mesmeric Revelations, honed in this piece, and continue to strive for in all our pieces. 

HT Darling was also the immersive piece where Submersive solidified our philosophy about "The Essential Audience," in which the role of the audience is never taken for granted in any given moment of the piece, where we never have a "default" role for them, but consider what "character" they are playing in every moment or in the larger whole of the piece, and allow that role to be a foundational ingredient to the entire devising process.  In HT Darling, because early on we cast the audience as Invited Patrons of the opening of HT's exhibit, it required an enormous amount of thought about how every scene in the piece was "public," as in there was never a traditional "fourth wall" that provided the characters with privacy.  It was tremendously challenging but so artistically rewarding to discover new ways to move the narrative forward in a way that fit in with the structure and dramaturgy of the world, involved the audience, and kept everyone's characters on an organic journey.

HT Darling remains one of my favorite pieces that I have ever worked on.  I can claim some individual credit for its success, but it was truly a momumental collaborative process on all accounts.

  • Trailer for H.T. Darling's Incredible Musaeum

    This trailer gives a good sense of the movement and characters of the show.
  • HT Darling Rehearsal

    This is one of my favorite photos from the rehearsal process of HT Darling. We often found ourselves having the most intense dramaturgical/devising discussions and discoveries in the strangest of places; in this moment, we are in a tiny room on the fourth floor of the Peale, which ended up being a pivotal but very private performance space that only a few audience members ever saw.
  • HT Darling 3

    One of the core parts of Submersive's devising process is group dramaturgy. Here is an early moment in our process with three of our performers adding to the Group Dramaturgy wall. While we also utilize digital tools, we've always found that nothing replaces butcher paper, markers, and tape to start filling in the world of the show.
  • HT Darling Champagne toast.jpg

    One the "tentpole" events of HT Darling, the Champagne Toast was deceptively simple in performance but wildly complicated to get just right. Not only with the text, staging, and timing of the performers, but for audience configuration.
  • HT Darling--Maxilla HT Exit.jpg

    This image captures one Submersive's most foundational missions: to dive into familiar narratives of our culture and society and revision what else could be possible. One of the most delicate aspects of HT Darling was creating a character and a narrative in which HT Darling was both the hero and the critique of the hero trope. What required the most soft touch and careful consideration was the end of HT's story in the show: we didn't want him to end up the hero and yet we also knew that we wanted to deviate from more traditional ways that a tragic hero narrative often ends.

Co-Director, Core Deviser: Mesmeric Revelations! of Edgar Allan Poe (Submersive Productions)

Submersive's first devised, immersive piece!  While  named after a short story written by Edgar Allan  Poe, this piece actually  did  not contain Edgar as a character at all,  and focused on both real women in his life and fictional characters that sprung from his mind.  The piece was fully devised by the ensemble of actors who performed it, with myself and Glenn Ricci acting  as guides, visionaries, and dramaturgs shepherding our way through the vast field of devising.  At the heart of our show was two major roots: to bring the women in Poe's life into full, complex humanity, and to create real relationships with the audience who came to join us (aka perform with them rather than at them).

I was hired by Glenn Ricci, whom I did not know at that point, to be his co-director for Mesmeric Revelations.  Because he was relatively new to the theater scene in Baltimore, I helped him cast the piece, and brought my skills in theater to compliment his skills in audience interaction and sound design.  For much of my career, I have been interested in how performers interact with architecture and the audience, and Mesmeric Revelations was the first time I got to practice this on such a large scale, even though the piece was fairly intimate. 

The biggest challenge of this piece was de-centering Edgar Allan Poe from his own narrative, since we were focusing on the women, both fictional and real, in his life.  Finding their humanity through the many layers of romanticism and nostalgia we have placed on them was an amazing dramaturgical and performative challenge, and this piece remains one of the biggest learning processes I've ever had in that realm.

  • The Mesmeric Revelations! of Edgar Allan Poe - The Immersive Theater Experience Returns Fall 2015

    This is the trailer for the second run of Mesmeric Revelations after our first sold-our run in the spring of 2015. Unlike most theatrical performances, we had to film it with no outside audience, using six volunteer audience members who had a small camera strapped to their chest, and following one character around the entire time. This trailer gives a sense of the multiple layers of movement, narrative, character, and design that were woven through every inch of this performance.
  • Mesmeric Revelations 1.JPG

    A still from the seance scene in Mesmeric Revelations. One way we created a full-length show as an ensemble was to have "tentpole" scenes like this one, which created moments for the disparate characters to come together and for larger audience interactions, in addition to being a landmark as we devised six full-length plots for every character.
  • Mesmeric Revelations 2.JPG

    The "Chess Match" scene, relatively early in the show, in which Auguste and V, a mysterious late-comer, squared off over a chess match in which the stakes were literally raised higher and higher. This scene is another great example of the interweaving layers of story and design that go into every detail of immersive work: this scene required as much physical choreography as it did careful curation of text/dialogue as a way to clue the audience in about who both Auguste and V were, as well as activating the environment and furniture in unexpected ways.
  • Mesmeric Process 1.JPG

    This is me bringing my contributions to the "group dramaturgy" wall we created during our initial character development process. One of the most joyous parts of devising with Submersive is the initial development process, when the whole team has come together and we all bring various forms of inspiration and research to the table to throw into the big devising stewpot. Even when the concept for a show comes from one person, once we start our process, everyone is contributing.
  • Mesmeric Process 2.jpg

    This is a photo of me addressing the cast of Mesmeric Revelations (remount). I'm always incredibly grateful to have developed as a directing by doing devised immersive work; it's very different than traditional proscenium shows, not only the needs of performers, management, and designers, but also in how important cultivating trust among the whole team is early in and throughout the process.

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