Character: Susanna (Susie) Johnson
Bio: Born in England, UK. Only child with no siblings. Converted to Islam whilst in secondary school.
An Interview with Jemima
- Why did you want to be involved in this production? I feel very strongly that ignorance is the root of prejudice, and that education is the only way to combat this. I feel deeply for the victims of hate crime; and am angered by the thoughtlessness of those committing these crimes, and the ill-informed grounds on which they base their attacks. I want people of all backgrounds to feel welcome to live happily in the UK without the fear of being harassed or attacked. This production aims to teach acceptance of others and condemnation of hate incidents, and this is why I feel it is important.
- What’s challenging about bringing this script to life? The script is a series of monologues, which is possibly the most difficult format with which to hold the attention of an audience – and teenagers in particular! We try to keep them on the ball by really living the moment each time we perform; and connecting with the emotion of the piece – as you should do every time you’re performing, of course. But the stakes are higher here: if you lose your way or stall, you’ve lost their attention. You need to be with the character at all times; you can’t drop it for a second. These are real incidents collected from real people in Cumbria, so connecting with the emotion isn’t too hard to do. I’m very saddened by these stories.
- How is this character like you? Different? Susie is much like I was at her age – a bit of an oddball! I felt like I didn’t fit in, just like Susie. I was quieter and more studious than many of my peers, and very interested in history, philosophy and spirituality. I didn’t go to lots of parties. I didn’t have boyfriends. We are different, though, in that Susie is very calm and measured in the face of the attacks she’s experienced, which is very admirable. I, on the other hand, can be a little hot-headed…
- What’s the biggest challenge about taking on this role? I think the biggest challenge for me was understanding Susie’s attraction to religion. I myself am not religious, so this is not something I naturally identify with – but it was extremely challenging and rewarding to research, and I learned a lot. Even though I’m not religious I have always recognised the need for freedom of religion, and religious plurality; and I can identify with the search for spirituality, and for peace – and these were the drives I used to access the character.
- Without giving anything away, what’s your favourite or most poignant line of dialogue? “I’m not going to try and convert you or make you see the light – your choices are your own, and your choice of religion – or lack thereof – is your own. I just want you to know that I found peace”.
- When did you first perform? Probably aged three at my local ballet school! But for the first time professionally in 2014, in a production of ‘Godspell’ the musical.
- When you have a five-minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing That’s tricky – I’m the sort of person who needs enough time to really sit down and do something! If I had a bit longer, I might read a book or do some character research – but if it really is just five minutes, I’ll make a coffee.
- In one line what would be you piece of advice to any young person out there? As my character Susie says, ‘broaden your horizons’. Often we don’t know what we don’t know; and we are all raised with some form of prejudice or another. It’s our duty to try and dismantle this by recognising our privilege or prejudice ‘blind spots’, and educating ourselves.