Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Susann Cellier
Current Location: Long Beach, CA
Susann, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I got a Bachelor of Arts in Music with an emphasis on vocal performance at Cal Poly Pomona. While there, I studied Opera, Musical Theater, Jazz, and Commercial Music. I also studied instrumental music and played all the pitched percussion instruments- vibraphone, xylophone, marimba- as well as concert percussion. I sang with the Concert Choir and Chamber Singers, and have gotten to perform the Carmina Burana twice and Mozart’s Requiem, my favorite of the great choral works, once. I played vibraphone and sang with the Jazz Combo and the Big Band. I also had the honor of playing at the Berkeley Jazz Festival.
After college, I did two seasons of musical theater in Palm Springs. Notable shows were Hair, Jekyll and Hyde, and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I actually opened the show Hair with the song Aquarius, particularly fitting for me as I am an Aquarius.
I discovered The Rose Center Theater in 2017, and it has been my beloved theater family ever since. Notable shows have been Mary Poppins, Sweeney Todd, The Secret Garden, A Christmas Carol, and How To Succeed.
My other activities include being a Roller Derby Referee, and I have had the great honor of singing our National Anthem for my derby league for the last 10 years.
Can you tell us a little more about what you've been working on recently?
I am currently using this downtime in quarantine to work on learning some new skills. I am attempting to teach myself tap dance with the aid of some YouTube videos. I am also using the time to practice my existing skills, such as dialects and accents, sight reading, and, of course, keeping my singing voice in tip top condition.
The road of the artist is a sometimes long and bumpy road. Have you had to overcome any on your journey?
I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer in 2004, and have had to undergo many, many surgeries over the years to remove the thyroid and several lymph nodes after the cancer metastasized. In 2007, during one of those lymph node removals, my left vocal cord was permanently paralyzed. I literally lost the ability to sing and my speaking voice was barely a breathy whisper for about two years. I was devastated when I learned of the damage that had been done and that it was permanent. Singing is the activity that brings me the most joy in this world, so to have lost my singing voice was absolutely devastating. Luckily, I was referred to a wonderful ENT surgeon who did some repair over several more surgeries, and he was able to bring the chord back to dead center so that when I sang, I had all of the volume back. I was able to sing and belt the very next day after my last surgery. It was incredible. I was overjoyed, and vowed then and there to never, ever take my beautiful singing voice for granted again. Now, I sing with more strength, clarity, and quality than when I had two working vocal cords.
Are there any lessons that you've learned along your journey so far? Something that you'd want to tell your younger self?
I have learned that I have a beautiful voice and a natural affinity for acting. If I could tell my younger self anything, I would tell my High School aged self to get out from behind the spotlight and light panel at the school theater and to actually audition for shows. I had never sung in front of anyone during High School, and had no idea if I had a good voice or not, even though I loved singing and longed to be on that stage. It wasn’t until college that I finally took a voice class. I sang Memory from Cats and actually saw people dabbing tears from their eyes. My instructor asked me where I had been hiding my voice all those years and encouraged me to start studying privately.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
When it comes to performing, I was always told by my teachers to just enjoy myself and not get hung up on little mistakes. They would say, “Don’t fall into red pencil mode, where you are grading your performance while you are still in the middle of performing. More than likely, you are the only one who knows you made a mistake”
What inspires you? Can you tell us about something that maybe inspired you to pursue a life in the arts?
Losing my singing voice for two years, not being sure if I would ever be able to sing again, and then, miraculously having my singing voice restored. That lit a fire under me and inspired me to use this wonderful gift of song that I have been blessed with. That was the Universe giving me another chance, and I will always be grateful. That gift inspires me every day.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
I have two where it relates to performing. First, even though I didn’t do a lot of singing in the role, my proudest moment, thus far in theater, was playing Mrs. Brill in Mary Poppins. It was my first major role. I got to really have fun and dive into character work. I enjoyed getting to do the cockney accent and really just playing her as sassy and bossy. I had several audience members tell me after the show that I was their favorite character.
Second, One of my proudest moments singing was one time when I sang the National Anthem at a derby game. I don’t go for a lot of vocal showboating when I sing the anthem. I do it cleanly and strong, but very reverently, always gazing at our nation’s flag. I had a military veteran come up to me afterwards with tears in his eyes who told me how much my performance moved him and he thanked me very sincerely. That meant a lot to me.
The mission of The Rose is to make the arts accessible in the community. What purpose do you think the arts or artists play in today's society?
I think that the Arts and Artists play a vital role in bringing beauty and passion into our everyday lives. The Arts allow us to escape from the mundane and get in touch with our deepest emotions. Whether or not a performance, a piece of art or music, or a performer or artist takes us to a joyful place or a sad place, they are still stirring things within us that allow us to be in touch with our hearts. I cannot imagine a life without the Arts.
What are your hopes for the future of the arts?
In the near term, I cannot wait for this COVID pandemic to be behind us so that we can return to stages and concerts and festivals. In the long term, I dearly would love to see the arts treated with the same amount of importance, reverence, and funding with which sports programs are given. I continue to see sports programs in schools get so much funding while the budgets for arts programs are slashed or even eliminated altogether. I think this is an incredible disservice to our youth of today, and tomorrow. There are so many potential artists out there who deserve to have access to good, quality arts programs in school.
Jim "Woody" Woods
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