20 Questions with Susan Thompson, Theater Teacher

From being a street performer in Paris to clowning in Mexico City, Director of Theater Susan Thompson’s adventures won’t fit neatly into twenty questions. But you can get a glimpse of the colorful carnival that is her life through our interview with the Commonwealth veteran below. 

1. What three words best describe Commonwealth? 

Quirky. Passionate. Intense.

2. What’s your #1 piece of advice for Commonwealth students? 

Let yourself not know.

3. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

On ne peut pas tout faire.

4. If you could teach any class aside from your own, what would it be?

Kindergarten. I would just play all day long and color and build things and create worlds.

5. Which word or phrase do you most overuse? 

“Your job is to create what we have yet to imagine.” That's a phrase from my teacher, Jacques Lecoq.

6. When and how did you first become interested in performing? In teaching?

Well, I always performed as a kid, and then I did a lot of dancing. But what really lit my fire was when I performed with undocumented workers in Mexico City and realized that it provided a way of communicating right away. So I became interested in performance as a way of creating bridges. Art was also a lifesaver for me as a teenager, a space where I could express all sorts of emotions—even those I didn't quite understand at that time. I think about that all the time when I’m teaching.

7. What do you find is the biggest misconception about teaching? 

That we know everything. And that we don't know. 

8. What is your favorite aspect of your work? 

Seeing students transform over four years, gaining confidence to stand up in front of a crowd and developing these skills that will serve them for their whole lives. 

9. How do you define success in theater? 

It’s funny, because it’s not about putting up the greatest production ever seen. I look at the achievements of the individuals, the progress they make along the way. And I look for when a group becomes an ensemble—when a class becomes a cast. Finally, there's a certain point in a production when I become irrelevant, when everything can happen without me and all I have to do is sit back and enjoy the show. So that's success for me.

10. What are people surprised to learn about you? 

That I'm a doula; I've been to over fifty births. 

11. Pen or pencil?

Magic markers.

12. Fall, winter, spring, or summer? 

Fall, when it's still warm enough to swim outside.

13. What's your favorite museum?

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or any museums that are houses, too. I love when museums and personalities collide.

14. What’s your favorite mode of transportation?

Walking. Ever since I walked the Camino, I learned to slow down and enjoy walking.

15. Scripted or improvised?


16. What is your go-to Boston eatery?

My back porch.

17. What is the best gift you have ever received?

The opportunity to take a sabbatical one year early, in 2019, when I spent months traveling with my husband.

18. If you could live as a local for 48 hours anywhere in the world, where would you go? 

Korea to join the Jeju Haenyeo [female divers who harvest shellfish off the coast of Jeju Island without the use of oxygen tanks and who often are octogenarians].

19. Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life? 

Probably Emma Thompson.

20. Who would you want to play in a biopic?

Probably Grace Slick. 

Bonus: What is the theme song of your life? 

“La Vida Es Un Carnaval,” Celia Cruz.

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