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Here is another in the series of interviews with principal cast members in The Sound of Music at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre in Indianapolis. This time we questioned an actress who is no stranger to Beef and Board patrons, Suzanne Stark. Suzanne lends her beautiful voice to the production as Mother Abbess.

Actress/Vocalist Suzanne Stark

Actress/Vocalist Suzanne Stark

I got to know Suzanne Stark a couple of years ago when we both were cast in a film called Flight Adventures being produced by the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. The film was about a young girl’s discovery of flying. I played the girl’s grandfather and Suzanne played a pilot. That was in the summer 0f 2011 and we had not crossed paths until we were both cast in this production of The Sound of Music. I never knew that Suzanne was such an outstanding vocalist until I heard her at rehearsals at Beef and Boards. So it was nice for me to have this opportunity to get to know Suzanne’s background even better when she agreed to answer a few questions for me.

Q: Suzanne, let’s start by learning where you were born and where you grew up.

Suzanne: I was born and raised in Cheboygan, Michigan – a small town 15 miles east of the Mackinaw Bridge on Lake Huron.

Q: Were any other members of your family performers?

Suzanne: Well, some have been active in community theatre.

Q: Which ones and where?

Suzanne: My mom was a founder of the Cheboygan theatre group known as the Northland Players, performed in community productions and played piano for countless productions for them, as well as high school musicals. She taught piano to nearly 350 students over the years. Mom also was instrumental in keeping the Opera House, which was built in the 1880’s, from being torn down.

Q: Wow! Any others?

Suzanne: Well, my dad was a great public speaker; he served as Mayor of Cheboygan for several years, and was the Parade Marshal for the Memorial Day services for over 60 years. He owned the local television and radio shop, so he had sound equipment that he would set up at all the various venues and parks for the parade for the reading of the war veterans killed in action, for the speeches, etc. But he did a lot of speaking on those days. He also played drums into his mid-20’s.

Q: You have quite the genetic background there. What about any siblings performing?

Suzanne: My sisters all have lovely voices. All of us have soloed in church. One of my sisters has performed onstage in community roles like Auntie Mame and Bloody Mary in South Pacific. She still plays French Horn very well.

Q: Do you remember your first singing performance?

Suzanne: I performed on the Opera House stage with my brothers and sisters when I was four – we sang “The Woodpecker Song” and won first prize in the talent show, but I think it was because my 2 year old sister had cute little legs and didn’t sing a thing! She and I sang a duet for a talent show a few years later, The Wells Fargo Wagon and Gary, Indiana from The Music Man – we won then, too. We should of taken our cute little legs on tour!

Q: What was your first acting experience?

Suzanne: At age 7, I played a boy, Little Willie in East Lynne. I died in my mother’s arms. And I have “died” on stage many times since then.

Q: Was your primary theatre training at college?

Suzanne: I studied theatre at Central Michigan University and received my BFA in Acting/Directing. Then I went on to Wayne State University for their graduate program, and I was a member of the Hilberry Repertory Theatre there.

Q: What about your vocal training – you are such a wonderful singer!

Suzanne: Thanks, Ken! My vocal training consisted of going into the piano room with Mom and my sisters after dinner and singing through all Mom’s old song books: vocal collections, Reader’s Digest Songbook, The Best of Broadway, etc. We would sing in the car, on the boat – Dad had a Chris Craft cabin cruiser, so we boated and swam all summer long if the weather was good. We did lots of duets and trios! Poor dad — after dinner, he would sit in the living room to watch tv and have to put up with piano, singing, oboe and french horn from the next room!

We had no choir program in high school, just band (I played oboe). I sang with the Women’s Glee Club and a dance/song troupe in college, but couldn’t take voice lessons because I wasn’t a voice major.

I sang with the St. Luke’s UMC chancel choir for 15 years, plus the women’s ensemble. And just this past year, I met a vocal coach thru the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and was able to meet with her for lessons about 4 times. That’s it!

Q: That’s amazing! So, what was your favorite college role?

Suzanne: It would have to be Julia in A Delicate Balance.

Q: Did you act professionally right after college?

Suzanne: Yes, I worked in summer stock at Enchanted Hills Playhouse following my CMU graduation and then again after a year at Hilberry Repertory.

Q: What other jobs did you work other than theatre?
Suzanne: Other jobs; well I raised three children! Primarily I have worked as Creative Director, Worship Director and Director of Music for a non-traditional off-site worship service affiliated with St. Lukes UMC here in Indianapolis. It’s known as The Garden, and worship services are held at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre and The Mansion at Oak Hill in Hamilton County.

Q: What would you say was the big turning point in your career?

Suzanne: Well I’d have to say marrying Doug Stark in 1976 was certainly a turning point in my career. Being able to raise my family and maintain a solid circle of wonderful friends in the same town, plus perform once a year, was a blessing many performers do not get.

Q: What highlights would you like to share?

Suzanne: Highlights? Well, returning to the Beef & Boards stage to perform in The Sound of Music under the direction of my daughter Elizabeth Stark ranks pretty high up there for me!

Q: That really was a remarkable thing, I thought. Very rare for the mother to be directed by the daughter! Do you have a favorite role as a professional?

Suzanne: Honestly Ken, I have enjoyed every role I’ve played, but probably the most fun I’ve had onstage – well, technically off-stage – is flying as Peter Pan!

Q: Where did you play Peter Pan?

Suzanne: I played Peter Pan at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre in late 1984. There is really no way to express the pure joy of flying through that window and hearing the audible gasp of delight from the audience!

The flying took a lot of time to get used to — during rehearsals, I’d be singing and find myself facing the back of the stage instead of the audience, because I hadn’t yet mastered physically using my muscles to stay forward. And even though you’re in a harness, you still feel like you’re really flying! It’s odd, because I’m a bit leery of heights. In college, we were required to work backstage and the guys had to crawl out and physically pull me back from the high areas where the lights hung over the house – I was too terrified to move after I’d gotten out there! I could never run the follow spots here at B&B for that reason! But flying both in Peter Pan and in Cats never felt scary in that way to me.

Q: What a great memory that must be. Any memories of low points?

Suzanne: Oh! – momentarily forgetting my lines during a performance of Hello Dolly was pretty low. I thought I would have to leave the stage – never to return; and that we would have to refund everyone’s money — then the words came back to me after a fraction of a second. The show goes on!

Q: I think every actor has gone through that. And one or two seconds feel like one or two minutes! But audiences are pretty forgiving, I think. Now, do you have any advice your young performers who want to pursue a career onstage?

Suzanne: Just this: Be persistent! Take good care of your body and your voice. And balance your theatre life with good friends and pursuits outside of your life on the stage.

Q: What activities do you like to do outside of your life on the stage.

Suzanne: I really enjoy gardening, travelling, doing crocheting, photography. But my favorite activity is being with my kids and grandkids.

Q: Have you been in The Sound of Music before and if so, who did you play?

Suzanne: Previously, I have played the role of Elsa, doubling as a nun for a couple scenes, in 1979; and I played Maria in 1988. I went on as Mother Abbess for a couple performances when the actress playing her was ill and I also went on as Elsa in that same production to cover for the actress when she couldn’t do the show for several performances. I have also directed The Sound of Music twice.

Suzanne Stark as Mother Abbess in B&B's production of "The Sound of Music" - with Cara Statham Serber

Suzanne Stark as Mother Abbess in B&B’s production of “The Sound of Music” – with Cara Statham Serber

Q: I know the answer to this one: have you been in other shows at Beef and Boards?

Suzanne: Most of my professional career has been at Beef and Boards, where I have played leading roles for over 30 years, as well as directing many productions. I aged gracefully, kicking and screaming, from playing Magnolia in Showboat, which was my first leading role, to my current role as Mother Abbess. In between, I had the good fortune to play Marion the Librarian, Eliza Doolittle, Annie Oakley, Dolly, Ado Annie, Queen Guinevere, Julie in Carousel, Mame, Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street, Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera, Mary Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Kate/Lily in Kiss Me Kate, M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias – and the old, old, old dying cat Grizabella in Cats. Type-casting, I presume.

Q: Hah! Wow! That is such an impressive roster of shows and roles! Do you have one favorite role from all those shows?

Suzanne: My favorite role at B&B? That is a tough one to decide, but I think maybe Dolly in Hello Dolly.

Q: I’ll bet you were a great Dolly! One final question: what is your next project?

Suzanne: My next project? God only knows, Ken!

Q: Well, I will look forward to seeing you in whatever is next. Thanks so much for your time, Suzanne.

If you are interested in attending Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music at Beef and Board Dinner Theatre in Indianapolis, ticket information can be found by calling 317-872-9664. The show opens May 16 and runs thru June 30. Further info about the show can be found at .

*Show picture from The Sound of Music by Julie Curry