Michael Susko



EP 81: Michael Susko (autogenerated)

[00:00:00] Dane Reis: [00:00:00] you booked it, episode 81. 

[00:00:06] Okay, let’s get started. I am excited to introduce my guest today. Michael Susko. Are you ready for this, Michael? 

[00:00:15]Michael Susko: [00:00:15] I am ready, Dane, how are you doing?

[00:00:18] Dane Reis: [00:00:18] brilliant. Michael has had a prolific 30 plus years in the business first as a musical theater actor, and then shifting to the other side of the table, directing and credits include the bigot off-Broadway. Arkansas Shakespeare theater theater under the stars. Casa manana, new Bedford festival theater, cider mill play house theater by the sea paper, mill theater, Westchester Broadway, Arizona Broadway and Arkansas repertory in New York city. His work has been seen at the alternative theater company, the Midtown international fringe festival. 

[00:00:51] Network theater company, equity, library theater, and the new short play festival where he is the artistic director. He currently teaches playwriting at ATC studio’s based in Clifton, New Jersey.  Michael holds an MFA in playwriting from Goddard college and a BFA in musical theater from the Boston conservatory. 

[00:01:13] Michael. That is a quick intro of who you are and what you’ve done, but why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself, filling the gaps, 

[00:01:21]Michael Susko: [00:01:21] You make me sound so fancy. No, I am a I’m originally from upstate New York. Binghamton New York city is home now. And I kind of think of myself as I’m just a hyphenate. I direct, I choreograph, I write produce, I do TV and film commercials teach, you know, it seems like now I just put whatever hat. Um, that I need to wear at any given moment. And you know, this business, as we all know is always a hustle. So for me, I’m just constantly learning and. Doing what you’re doing, what we do.

[00:01:58] Dane Reis: [00:01:58] Yeah, I love it. And let’s move on to this next section. And Michael, look, I am a sucker for a good quote. What is your favorite quote you want to share with everyone?

[00:02:10]Michael Susko: [00:02:10] My favorite quote, which I have actually been using a lot lately is trust the process.

[00:02:17]Dane Reis: [00:02:17] Mm. And can you expand on that a little bit for how that fits into your life and your career?

[00:02:22]Michael Susko: [00:02:22] Oh, gosh, most definitely. Uh, You know, I think for me, I have the benefit of looking backwards at my career. So, um, you know, when I started, I wanted to control everything. And if I’ve learned anything over all these years, it’s that this business refuses. To be controlled and sometimes we just have to take the leap and the universe will catch you. And I really do believe that when we just let go and trust the process, the pieces magically fall into place. Just the way they’re supposed to.

[00:02:54]Dane Reis: [00:02:54] Yeah, I could not agree more. I mean, I can certainly relate to that in the beginning of my career. Just trying to make things happen. In a. An overly forceful way, I think. And just Trying to think that my life should go this way, this way, this way. But life was giving me all this other information and it took me a minute before I decided to pay attention to what was falling in my lap. And then to run with

[00:03:14] Michael Susko: [00:03:14] Yeah. For me the best things that happened. Uh, when I just let go of that need to control and let the process work itself out.


[00:03:23]Listen, I think, I think, you know, listen to the universe trust. And it’s. No, sometimes you get lucky.

[00:03:29]Dane Reis: [00:03:29] Yeah, absolutely. Well, let’s move on to this next section here. And Michael, of course you are an entertainer. I’m an entertainer. And I think that you’d agree. This industry can be one of the most subjective, brutally, honest, personally, emotional industries in existence. you know, you know, as well as I. That in order to create and have a successful career in this industry, like your having now, it takes a lot of dedication and hard work. And while yeah, there was an outrageous amount of fun doing what we do. There are also our fair share of obstacles, challenges, and failures. We are going to experience and we are going to have to move forward through. So tell us what is one key challenge, obstacle or failure you’ve experienced in your career and how did you come out the other side better because of it.

[00:04:22]Michael Susko: [00:04:22] Oh, gosh, you are so right about all the crazy. Um, you have to have a tough. skin, Uh, you know, a really thick skin. It’s fun for me. I think, you know, I was always in my head and that, and not in a good 

[00:04:34]Dane Reis: [00:04:34] Hmm. 

[00:04:34] Michael Susko: [00:04:34] Uh, and now. Again, Fast-forwarding I think I’ve, I’m able now to quiet all the noise in my head and find. Respect. For what I actually bring to the table. You know, I think now I can accept that I am good at what I do. I do bring value. Uh, I trust myself more. And when I started, I did not. I did not. I was very, very insecure.

[00:04:56]Dane Reis: [00:04:56] Yeah, absolutely. And let’s move on to this section to a time that I like to call your. Spotlight moment. That one moment in time you realized, yes, I am going to be an entertainer for living or maybe it was, yes. This is what I need to be doing as an entertainer. Tell us about that.

[00:05:21]Michael Susko: [00:05:21] Oh, my gosh. I don’t know if there was ever a question. I was going to do this. I was one. Stubborn little kid and. 

[00:05:28]I was going to be, the theater was my love. I just was going to do this and. Here I am.

[00:05:34]Dane Reis: [00:05:34] I love that. And let’s piggyback on that question real quick and talk about your number one, booked it moment. Walk us through that day, the auditions and call backs. If they happen to be a part of it. Well, what was going on in your life? And what about that moment? Makes it your favorite? Booked it moment.

[00:05:54]Michael Susko: [00:05:54] Oh, gosh. Um, you know, I don’t really know if I’ve had a. I booked it moment because. For me, like I said, I’m was always in my head. So I, you know, I was subconsciously, you know, setting out to sabotage myself. Um, Sad, but true. Um, but I think there’s one audition that sticks out is they were casting the national tour of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Um,  um, the show was closing on Broadway and they were getting ready to send out the tour. And I got a call back. And on that morning of the callback I woke up and I couldn’t say. And. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I wrote, I went to the breakfast table and I wrote the letter to the casting director and I’m going to go in and I’m going to apologize and I’m sorry, but I can’t sing right now. But so I had this little note and instead of giving it to him, I put the letter in my book. And. I went in and I sang. And in the room was the director Bobby Long bottom. Um, and, and he knew me as a dancer at radio city. And he had never heard my voice. So. I remember standing there in the room. Going, Oh my God. I don’t know what’s going to come out and I’m just, I can’t believe I’m doing this. And I started to sing and I watched Bobby. Has had popped up from my resume and he looked at me like, I can’t believe that this is coming out of your mouth. I impress myself. So the process continued and we were at the final callbacks again, I’m in my head. And I was surrounded by all these guys. Who would they, you know, they’ve been on Broadway and Les MIS on Broadway and Jacqueline Hyde, Phantom of the opera. And here I was sitting there on the corner going, Oh my God, I’m a fraud. I’m a fraud. What am I going to do? I don’t belong here. And I still have this note my get out of jail free card note that I wrote, And we had a lunch break in the day of the final callback and we’re all sitting in the hallway. And all of a sudden the casting director comes out and says, uh Michael’s Losco uh, Bobby would like to speak with you. And I’m thinking, this is it. This is the moment where he says I am so sorry. We made a huge mistake. And as I’m like walking in the room with my tail between my legs. And Bobby says, okay. So here’s what we’re thinking. Um, you know, the show, you know, you’d you know, you’d be a soldier and there’s all these little roles he goes, but I have this idea. We have to cut. A woman track for the, to work cause we need another guy, but he goes, there’s this one number where all the guys are dancing with the ladies and these huge dresses and powdered wigs. And he says, I need , the same number of dresses. He’s like, Michael, I don’t think anyone would notice. Would you be okay with that?

[00:08:17] Dane Reis: [00:08:17] Oh,

[00:08:18]Michael Susko: [00:08:18] And I looked into my said, well, I’ve done it before. I’m sure I’ll do it again. He laughed and we had a moment. He sends me away. And I walked out of the room and I said to a friend. I think he just offered me a job.

[00:08:30]Dane Reis: [00:08:30] Whoa.

[00:08:31] Michael Susko: [00:08:31] And sure as shooting I, that day I’ve been following week, I got the offer. And it was, I got to anybody who knows Scarlet Pimpernel. I was the Makita Sancerre. The guy who sings before he gets his head cut off. But in the opening of the second act, I was in a big, huge wig, a big, huge dress. And I was Douglas sills dancing partner.

[00:08:51]Dane Reis: [00:08:51] That is amazing. Love that story. You’ve got the best stories and. You know, what I love most about that is. That there are so many things that are out of our control in this audition. Process. We go in there. We give what we want. We’re so concerned about what they want, but. You could not, not in a million years, what do you fathom that that’s the trajectory and the strategy that they’re trying to create and develop, but behind the scenes. So we, I think we need to take the lesson from that and. Go. Hey. We have no idea what they’re thinking. There are so many cogs and pieces to this machine of a show. That’s going to be going out that, try not to concern yourself about that because who would have ever thought that that’s what the end result was going to

[00:09:40] Michael Susko: [00:09:40] Yeah. Yeah. I say that to actors all the time. When I’m auditioning. And. They don’t try to go into my head and don’t try to figure out this puzzle. Uh, , you know, you, you think, you know what I’m looking for, but I guarantee. That it’s not possible. You know when I’m casting, like say 42nd street. for me, I’m casting the ballet at the end of the show. And there are very, very specific characters in that ballet. So I need a couple short women. I need a couple tall women. I need, uh, you know, I need a thug light guy I need. And so you start going and sure. If . I have five tall ladies, but I don’t need all five. So even if you are the best answers in the room, You’re not getting it. And if you try to do, I think as actors there, they’re trying to go, Oh, I, you know, I want to do this. I think I should do this. And like, don’t just, just go and be good. Be fabulous. And trust the process.

[00:10:30]Dane Reis: [00:10:30] Right. , and if it’s the right fit for you at that moment then has on, if not, then that’s totally cool too. It doesn’t mean you were bad or you failed at that audition. You gave what you have and. Maybe a fit, maybe it didn’t in that moment.

[00:10:43]Michael Susko: [00:10:43] Yeah. Again. Yeah. You’re too tall. You’re too short. You’re too blonde. You’re too. This you’re too that you know, I have to Pat,  pair. Partners up and I need a very tall woman to go with a very tall man. You just don’t know. And I think just as actors, we get so crazy. And we try to figure it out. What are they looking for? What do they need? 

[00:11:03]And. I think it. It creates too much noise in our heads. And for me, that was. Deadly.

[00:11:10]Dane Reis: [00:11:10] For sure. And I can imagine as being someone who casts many shows that . Your puzzle is even changing and it’s very dynamic through the whole process. You might have someone come in and you go, wow. How can I fit them in the show for whatever reason. And then that kind of shifts your puzzle a little bit. So now what you were even originally thinking is changing on the fly, is that

[00:11:31] true?

[00:11:31] Michael Susko: [00:11:31] have done that. Yes, that happens all the time. Oh, I got, I love this person. I have to use them.

[00:11:36]Dane Reis: [00:11:36] I love it. And. I think it just goes to show everyone listening. That’s going into these rooms and auditioning that just to let it go. Do you and leave it there. Love it. And , well, let’s take a moment to talk about the present. What projects are you working on now? What are you looking forward to? And look, it’s a crazy time. We are amidst this global pandemic. How do you see the entertainment industry moving forward in the next couple of years?

[00:12:05]Michael Susko: [00:12:05] Oh Lordy. Well, the industry is going to change. We know that. I don’t know what it’s gonna look like. I don’t think anybody can say what it’s gonna look like when we come out on the other side. but I know that theater people are resilient. I know that artists have to create art. Uh, so in all of this. Quarantine. We’re all locked down. Something.  This is all going to be a lot of content coming our way, because we’re all sitting here. Desperate to do something. I hope that we can reset the economic model. because I think right now, I don’t think it’s sustainable. Um, we’re looking at unions and we’re looking at how much everything costs and. We’ll see, maybe this is a good time for us to breathe and say, okay, this works. And maybe there’s things that don’t, and let’s see if we can fix those.

[00:12:52]Dane Reis: [00:12:52] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve had conversations with people where there’s even some serious conversation about. Broadway shows doing casting via submissions and, you know, trying to. Or allowing people to eliminate the idea that you have to come to New York to be seen for a show. Sure. You weren’t going to get there eventually, if you keep getting through the callbacks, but to really acknowledge. end really embraced the technology available to. Open yourself up to an even larger pool of people that just simply might not be able to make the, make it all the way to New York.

[00:13:24]Michael Susko: [00:13:24] Yeah, I think that’s actually a great idea is, you know what I may be, I may not be right for a show, but at least let me audition and then tell me I’m not right before I spend thousands of dollars traveling.

[00:13:35]Dane Reis: [00:13:35] Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I mean, it certainly takes a bit. I was going to, you know, create a bit more work on the backend. But I think by doing that, the end result has a potential to be much stronger even.

[00:13:46]Michael Susko: [00:13:46] For me, I, I actually, over the past few years, I have done a lot of casting through video. 

[00:13:54]I like it. I like being able to be in my, I can spend more time and focus and I can see far more people. And then I need something else, you know, I’ll email and say, you know, why do you have a song that kind of does this. And. I find a great, I. You know, I’ve been liking the zoom rehearsals. I may. Adopt that even when we can go back. You can do a lot of table work without having to travel.

[00:14:19]Dane Reis: [00:14:19] Yeah, I love that. And let’s move on to one of my favorite sections in the interview. I call it the grease lightening round. I am going to ask you a handful of questions. I want you to answer them as quickly and concisely as possible one after another. Are you ready?

[00:14:40]Michael Susko: [00:14:40] I’m nervous. I’m nervous. What do I win if I get it? All right.

[00:14:43]Dane Reis: [00:14:43] A big thumbs up. I don’t know. 

[00:14:46] First question. What is the one thing holding you back from committing to a career as an entertainer?

[00:14:52]Michael Susko: [00:14:52] My father wanted me to have a real job. So I started college and I was majoring in music education with a business economics minor. 

[00:15:00]How dumb was I. 

[00:15:03] Dane Reis: [00:15:03] Second question. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

[00:15:08]Michael Susko: [00:15:08] There’s no such thing as failure, you’re simply more or less successful.

[00:15:14]Dane Reis: [00:15:14] Beautiful. Third question. What is something that is working for you now, or if you’d like to go pre COVID, what was working for you before our industry went on? Pause.

[00:15:25]Michael Susko: [00:15:25] I went through an entire year. I called it my year of yes. I just said yes to everything and then I’ll figure it out later. And I, you know, I still do that now.

[00:15:33]Dane Reis: [00:15:33] Wonderful. You’re so right. those yeses better far outweigh. 

[00:15:37] Michael Susko: [00:15:38] Yeah. Even if I don’t want to do it, I’m thinking, Oh, I don’t know how I’m going to add anything to this. I just say yes. And then we’ll, we’ll figure it out.

[00:15:44]Dane Reis: [00:15:44] Absolutely love it. And the fourth question. What is your best resource? Whether that is a book, a movie, a YouTube video podcast, maybe a piece of technology you found is helping your career right now.

[00:15:58]Michael Susko: [00:15:58] No, we have this luxury of this thing called the internet.  Uh, I just feel, if you want to do this professionally, you have to study everything, listen to everything, watch everything, read everything, and I’m not kidding. No, your business past and present. Um, There was theater before wicked. 

[00:16:13] Uh, the, more, the more, you know, the more you’ll succeed. So I really just say everything. You can get your hands on.

[00:16:19] Dane Reis: [00:16:20] love it. And the fifth question. If you had to start your career from scratch, but you still had all the knowledge and experience you’ve collected from your career in this industry, what would you do or not do? Would you do anything differently or would you keep it the same?

[00:16:38]Michael Susko: [00:16:38] You know, I knock on wood. I’ve been very lucky. but as I look back and this isn’t us. I’m not saying this in a sad way, but I really wish I had just enjoyed the ride more.  I was all business and I was just always, you know, looking for the next gig. And I was always like, let’s go, let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go. And I never stopped to breathe.

[00:16:56]Dane Reis: [00:16:56] Absolutely. I can absolutely relate to that feeling for sure. And the last question. What is the golden nugget knowledge drop you have learned from your successful career in this industry that you’d like to leave with everyone?

[00:17:11]Michael Susko: [00:17:11] Oh, that’s easy. You know, when everybody is telling you no. And you will hear no, a lot, believe in yourself, know what you want and don’t let anybody kill those dreams that you have. Shut out the noise. And go for it. It’s yes. Say yes. When everyone else was saying no.

[00:17:29]Dane Reis: [00:17:29] Beautiful in valuable advice. And to wrap up this baby, it is time to give yourself a plug. Michael, where can we find you? How do our listeners connect with you? Is there anything you want to promote?

[00:17:44]Michael Susko: [00:17:44] Well, I’m at. Um, Michael  dot com. So I do have a website that people can. Reach out to me there. You can see what I’m up to. You know? Yes, there’s a lot of projects going on right now. I said the new short play festival. We’re going to be doing a virtual theater season in the fall. Um, I’ve been working with some writers on a new musical called the Vista, a Boca loca social club. And so we’ve been working on that and we’re getting ready to do some virtual readings of that. And I just, yeah, I’m just, I’m I’m going to keep doing it. Even if we’re in quarantine, I’m here. I’m gonna sit, keep busy. And make theater because that’s what we do. what, that’s what we do.


[00:18:24] Dane Reis: [00:18:24] Beautiful. All right. So for everyone listening out there, I have put the links to everything. Michael just said in the description of this episode, Michael, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. Thank you for sharing your journey at all of your 

[00:18:38] Michael Susko: [00:18:38] you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It’s just a nice to reconnect with you and congratulations on all of this. 

[00:18:44]Dane Reis: [00:18:44] Thank you.