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Suzan Moriarty can’t pinpoint the moment she became interested in performing. But the self-described “very quiet little girl” remembers loving to imitate TV commercials.
“There were many times that I would watch something on TV and then go to a mirror and try to mimic what I just saw,” she says. “If I didn’t like the way I looked, I’d try it a different way.”
Unbeknownst to her, she was laying the groundwork for a lifetime of performing.
When she was a little older, she saw a local community theater production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in her hometown, Findlay, Ohio. “They used children as the dwarfs, two of whom I knew,” she says. “I loved everything about it – from the costumes to the special effects of the ‘magic mirror.’ I walked away thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”
In the third grade, she entered her school’s talent show, created her own dance routine and won first place.
“People who know me now find that hard to believe. I seemed to have developed two left feet over the years,” she says.
Like the well-worn TV trope, her first role in a play was that of a tree. “I was in a children’s production of Chicken Little,” she recalls. “I remember thinking how much fun it was and how seriously I took it.”
She performed in her first community theater production, No Sex Please, We’re British, when she was 17 years old.
Moriarty studied ballet for 11 years, took voice lessons and studied theater performance at the University of Findlay and Bowling Green State University. She performed in 17 productions throughout her college career, including summer stock.
She moved to Fort Wayne in 1988 and took a long break from theater. Then fate stepped in.
“In 2000, one of my theater professors passed away very unexpectedly,” she says. “At his memorial, I reunited with my former theater classmates. I realized how very much I missed [performing].”
Within weeks she auditioned for Steel Magnolias at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre and was cast as M’Lynn.
To prepare for a role or an audition, Moriarty admits to researching other theaters’ performances online. Much like her younger self experimenting with line readings in front of a mirror, she says, “I try different ways to deliver a line and spend time thinking about how we normally speak to each other when we’re having a conversation.”
She has played a wide range of characters, some similar to her own personality, others completely different.
“I think with every character I’ve played there is a bit of method acting that takes place,” she says. “[But] when the character is really different from me, it almost requires a temporary transformation off-stage to reach the comfort level I need to perform effectively.”
Like most actors, the role she cites as her favorite was also her most difficult.
“Berta in Boeing Boeing was a very challenging role,” she says. “She needed a French accent and had a very dry delivery and, on top of that, it was a very physical show. I was very nervous to play her.”
She experienced a different kind of challenge when in a play called Chapter Two. She and fellow actor Jim Matusik played a dating couple who were drinking glasses of wine. “We actually used apple juice in the glasses,” she explains. “But on one particular night, our ‘wine’ didn’t taste the same. That was because our director, Brian Wagner, didn’t have enough juice to fill our glasses, so he gave us actual wine instead.”
Unfortunately, Wagner forgot to tell them about the switch.
“While sipping the drink, I began to get a bit warm,” she says, “and I noticed that Jim hadn’t touched his past the first sip. I realized I had been drinking the real thing and began to panic.”
Fortunately, Moriarty’s professionalism kicked in, and it didn’t affect her performance.
Her current role is Masha in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at Arena Dinner Theatre, and like many Arena veterans, Moriarty appreciates the intimacy of the space.
“You can feel the emotions coming from the audience because everything is so close to the stage,” she says. “You know immediately whether the audience has connected with your character and I love that.”
Although they may not follow in her performing footsteps, Moriarty has passed along her love of theater to her 18-year-old twins.
“Both have dabbled in performing,” she says. “My daughter has a beautiful singing voice and has performed in the musicals at Homestead and two shows at Arena. We even got to do one together.”
Their theatrical appreciation started early. Just before their fourth birthday, the twins attended their first production, the previously mentioned Steel Magnolias at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre. Director Phillip Colglazier was somewhat apprehensive about the youngsters’ ability to focus on the show without disrupting the audience.
“But they sat glued to their seats watching me on stage,” Moriarty says. “Their support has been amazing as they’ve gotten older.”
In addition to her familial support system, Moriarty takes comfort in the support of her fellow actors, both onstage and off. “I have some local favorite [actors] that I adore,” she says. “The people who take it as seriously as I do are so wonderful to work with. You know that regardless of what happens on stage, they have your back.”
She says she had expected Fort Wayne theater to be a different experience than what she’d had in Findlay. “But the truth is, there is closeness that all theater communities seem to observe,” she says, “and Fort Wayne is no different.”