1. Who are you, where you are from, and how did you start in this field?
Susan 4 years old and ready for action
I was born in Jackman, ME, fifteen miles from the Canadian border in Western Maine. French was my first language, which I spoke until I was about three. When I was eight years old we moved to Westbrook. My Dad still lives there, in the house I grew up in. I graduated from USM with a degree in theater. After college, I was part the Downeast Theatre Collective. We had a small, fifty seat theater in what was then the old Oddfellows Hall (now the Portland Performing Arts Center). We, the four members of the collective, took turns shoveling coal into the hopper of the coal powered furnace, in lieu of rent.Eventually, I burned out, and for about seven years, stopped doing any kind of theater. During that time, I relocated to the New Hampshire seacoast. I returned to the stage in a production of Carol Churchill’s “Vinegar Tom,” produced by Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s Generic Theater. The minute I stepped on stage again, it was like coming home. I continued to act with various theater companies in the Portsmouth area for the next couple of years.
A quantum leap occurred for me in 1990, when I attended a class with Pontine Movement Theatre. There, I was introduced to the concept of actor-generated theater, which just blew my mind! As a traditional actor, I had felt so powerless: waiting for some company to cast me in the right role, in a play I actually cared about. Why not write and produce my own material?
My friend Liz Korabek, a movement actor, and I rented a local theater and self-produced two original shows, one in 1992 and another the following year. We shared the bill, each performing 35-40 minutes of original material, running lights for each other, getting friends to volunteer running the front of the house. These two adventures were very satisfying creatively, and I was hooked.
Liz went off to grad school in 1994, the same year I married my creative partner, the ferociously talented Gordon Carlisle. He and I drove across country on our honeymoon, and that’s when the idea for “In My Head I’m Thin” was born. Our first full length show, “Thin” premiered in 1995. “Ida: Woman Who Runs With the Moose” followed in 1997, and in 1998, with our debut of “Spousal Deafness…and Other Bones of Contention,” I became a full time writer and performer.
Behold our Travel Quilt, the first project we collaborated on. It’s a 61 ½” x 47 ½” memory quilt of a road trip we took back in 1992, traveling to Memphis, then the Southwest and back again. En route, we collected stuff we thought could be incorporated into a quilt. We knew next to nothing about quilting, but just dove in anyway. Come to think of it, we still work together like that, to this day.
We started touring when producer Mike Levine booked a run of “Thin” at Portland’s Oak Street Theater, and we haven’t looked back. We average about 40 to 50 performances a year. Our tenth play, “I Married an Alien,” will preview here at Lucid on July 27th.
2. Tell us something you know that we may not know, about yourself or the world.
I’m actually an introvert, which I know is kind of strange for someone who makes a living talking about themselves, but it’s true. I look like an extrovert when I’m out in the world, but I get my energy from being alone. Anything in the outside world, a performance, a party, social engagements with friends, has to be balanced with down time, recharge time. “Going into the cave,” I call it.
3. What inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Every day stuff inspires me: conversations overheard in the grocery store, stories people tell at a party, my dog, funny things my husband says, the extraordinary lives of “ordinary” people. Inspiration is everywhere!
Being self-employed is perfect for my personality type. I’m very focused and goal oriented, and I love what I do. To stay motivated and to keep from getting overwhelmed, I try to take one full day off a week, where I let my brain relax, and not think about all the stuff I want to get done. I meditate every day, and that helps, too. Now, I’m not saying that writing and performing doesn’t feel like work from time to time, but if someone gave me a million dollars, you know what? I’d keep doing what I’m doing. I’d travel more, sure, but I’d keep creating.
My biggest motivator right now is the fact that I’m 54 years old, and have so many ideas and so much I want to say. If anything, the urgency to create is even greater than it was twenty years ago.
4. Share with us something funny that has happened to you recently. I fell off my bike. I know, that doesn’t sound funny, but it was. I got a bike a year ago, the kind with the fancy pedals and shoes that click in so you’re one with the bike. I took a spill the first day out when Gordon was giving me a lesson on stopping. One of my shoes clicked back in and I didn’t realize it, and boom! Down I went, scraping my knee and getting some fairly impressive black and blue marks up and down my left side.
When I first got the bike, Gordon tried to get me to learn how to change a tire if I ever got stuck somewhere, but he works at home, right? I told him, “Honey, I already have a tire repair kit. It’s called a cell phone.”
Well, I’ve been doing pretty good since that first tumble. No mishaps. Until last week. It was a really hot day, and I was kind of tired by the time I got home. I skillfully click my right foot out of the pedal as I approach our driveway, and I begin breaking. But, like I said, I was tired and probably a little cocky, and as I put my right foot down, I misjudge the balance of the bike. Instead of tilting to the right, it sort of hovered in the middle than chose to tilt left, the side with the shoe still attached to the bike. And in slow motion, down I went.
So I’m in the driveway, with the bike on top of me, trying to click out of my pedal. And I find myself thinking, I wonder if I can reach my cell phone? “Ah Gord, I’m in the driveway. I can’t get out from under my bike.” And I start to giggle, which was kind of intensified by the pain in my knee and hip, like when you hit your funny bone. I couldn’t stop. I mean, I almost pee’d my pants by the time I got my foot free. Not that I would’ve even noticed what with my padded bike shorts. Well, my padded bike “skort,” which is funny in and of itself.
Susan and Gordon hiking in Utah, 2006
5. How do you bridge the financial gap between what this profession pays and making a living? Small businesses like ours have cash ebbs and flows, so as long as Gordon’s business and mine are not ebbing at the same time, it’s OK. Neither one of us teach, but we do a variety of things in our field. Gordon paints large scale murals on commission and does graphics, scenic painting, illustration and his own fine art. We tour our shows. I take care of the business end of Poolyle Productions, and write weekly Maine humor blog for Down East magazine. I’ll have a book coming out this fall. I also do after-luncheon or dinner entertaining and am branching out into keynote speeches, which I love. We have a variety of lecture-demos where we talk about our creative process and perform excerpts from our work. We also try to keep our monthly expenses low, and we don’t have children.
6. What’s the best advice for the creative person that someone has given you? I took a workshop at Celebration Barn about four or five years ago, I think. It was called “Through the Bones of Your Experience” with Laurie Carlos. Her basic premise was, as creative artists, how we live our lives is how we make our work. We were asked, What is the myth you’re living at the moment? What is the story we tell ourselves? Is it still serving us? If not, how can we rewrite it? For example, I identified my myth as, “I’m a homebody;” that’s the story I tell myself. If how I live my life is how I approach my work, the next question is: how does this myth manifest in my work? I came to realize that home isn’t so much a place as it is something inside me. On a practical level, this made touring more fun. Creatively, I started to risk more in my work.
The other piece of advice that’s helped me is, “Recognize your little darlings, and kill them off if they’re not serving the whole.” I can’t remember who said it, but it sticks with me. It used to be I’d keep those little darlings ‘til the bitter end. Now, I just let them go early on.
I’d also heard that the more you write, the easier it is the write. After doing a weekly blog and podcast for over three years, I know this to be true. Writing the blog is such a Zen thing for me. It keeps me in the flow of writing, and everything, not just Ida, is easier to write. It’s about making a start and seeing where it leads me. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.
7. What projects are in the pipeline for you? Do you have a ‘dream’ project?
My first book, published by Islandport Press, Finding Your Inner Moose, Ida LeClair’s Guide to Livin’ the Good Life is coming out at the end of September. I’m really looking forward to doing author events and learning about this whole new field. I had a great time writing the book, and hope to do more. I’d love to do radio, too, and maybe a chat show as Ida. I want to continue doing Ida’s blog. I also loving doing keynote speeches and lecture-demos, and hope to do more of those. As for my dream project, before I leave this life, I want to at least be somewhat fluent in French, my mother tongue.
June, 2012, with our dog Charlie, who looks alot like Ida’s dog Scamp
8. Would you like to share your contact information? How can readers find out more about you?
Susan Poulin 207-384-4526 firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com> http://www.poolyle.com/
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