It’s no accident that the word “class” is encased in this actress’ last name.
Visiting from Tucson, Arizona, where she is the Managing Artistic Director of the Invisible Theatre, Susan Claassen knows theatre.
She’s in town with her second LA foray of A Conversation with Edith Head, co-written by herself and Paddy Calistro. Nine years ago, the New Jersey native saw a TV documentary about the Hollywood costume designer and realized that she resembled her. Her quest to produce a one-woman show emerged.
After finding Edith Head’s official historian, Paddy Calistro, in the phone book, the two arranged to meet in Los Angeles. “We both ordered oatmeal, and the rest is history,” Susan says. “It all gelled.”
The two wanted to depict the fashion maven with dignity, as Ms. Head enjoyed a six-decade career in Hollywood with 1,131 films, 35 Oscar nods, eight wins, working with every major name including Bette Davis, Dorothy Lamour, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford at both Paramount (44 years) and Universal. The average person might have retired after Paramount.
“I was very shy as a kid,” Susan said. Through drama classes above a Maplewood, New Jersey movie theatre, and attending college in Denver, the shyness disappeared. The actress proved she was exceptional, as she joined Actors’ Equity while still in school, a feat that is very difficult.
She worked nation-wide and settled in Tucson to run the Invisible Theatre. With few artistic directors in the ‘70s, “there was an opportunity to define roles that hadn’t previously been defined. It was on the job training in administration, producing, and directing.
“I never picked Tucson as ‘the’ place because I am a water person, but I wound up there.”
Her one-woman show is interactive with the audience, who has an opportunity to ask questions. “I can’t talk about times after 1981, so it’s a challenge. Every night is different.” An added treat: historical photographs and costumes.
“When you love your work as I do, at the end of the day I feel so blessed to be working. These are tricky times. Being artistic director and fundraiser at my theatre, it’s not easy.” She has Sanctuary Sundays where she turns off the phone and computer, reads the Times, and watches CBS Sunday Morning.
As travel is a love, she was fortunate to play her first international show in Tbilisi, Republic of George at the International Theatre. “The Georgian people are the most generous people; the culture is so rich.” She’s also performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at the Leicester Square Theatre in London’s West End.
Next April, her one-woman show is booked on the elite Crystal Cruises through the Panama Canal. Actress Tippi Hedren, who worked with Ms. Head on a couple of Hitchcock films, is joining her.
No pun intended, but the entrepreneur wears many hats. “I enjoy producing and directing, but acting is my favorite. It’s a privilege and so much fun.”
This incarnation of the show runs ‘til Nov. 13.
Sue Facter owns a news agency that specializes in the luxury brand. Her work has appeared in USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Women’s Day Australia, on broadcasts and the web.