From Suzart’s Founding Family to Yours:
Opportunities for All
Kevin Dacey grew up in show business. “I did my first show when I was four, with Orpheus,” says the sandy-haired 23-year-old with the easy smile. When Kevin was 10 his moms, Sue Fowler Dacey and Elaine McCausland, started Ottawa’s Suzart Productions. After that, his family got a whole lot bigger.
Suzart is all about family.
Just ask Sarah McCormack, a photographer and mother of two who graciously agreed to take the pictures for this story. “I can’t say enough about Suzart and the people involved,” Sarah remarks. “They have changed lives, and are continuing to do so. I have heard many stories from parents about the positive impact Suzart has had on their children. The company has done so much for so many people—kids and adults.”
When Sarah’s son Griffin got home from his first Suzart rehearsal, he told her: “Mom, I’ve found my people.” He was 11. Since then he’s played Winthrop in The Music Man and been part of the chorus for Hello, Dolly! and Disney’s The Little Mermaid. As he talks about this theatre company, his eyes shine.
“I would like people to know that Suzart is a big, supportive family where everyone is welcome. It is a place where you can always be yourself,” Griffin declares.
Those sentiments have been echoed time and again since the company was founded in 2003, with an aim to make live theatre available to everybody.
“I wanted to give opportunities to people, especially children, who would not ordinarily get opportunities to participate in musical theatre in the city,” Sue Fowler Dacey explains. “It was Elaine who said to me, ‘There’s no reason we can’t start our own family musical theatre company. Between the two of us, we have all the necessary skills.’ ”
They did. Elaine had the behind-the-scenes stuff covered, as an experienced set designer and props creator, stage manager and executive producer. “She’s the techie and I’m the people person,” says Sue.
Since Sue’s mom was a professional stage manager, she grew up, like Kevin, learning how to make magic happen under the stage lights. Sue and Elaine also had the administrative know-how to start their own theatre enterprise. As a craftsman Sue already had a registered company, called Suzart because her family calls her Suz.
“Suzart” would work well for a theatre company too, wouldn’t it? The two of them chuckle at how Elaine got her share of their new company name. “You’re the Art,” Sue decided.
Their inaugural production, Honk!, was planned for October of 2003 in the chamber of Ben Franklin Place. That’s when Kraig-Paul Proulx, a professional actor, moved back home to Ottawa to help them out. He took care of costumes for the show. Since it was Thanksgiving weekend, though, there wasn’t much he could do about the crowd.
There were 13 cast members and not many more than 13 people in the audience. “It was terrible, but the seats were comfortable,” Sue laughs. So began something wonderful for Ottawa families.
One Ottawa family made it happen. On a Saturday afternoon, there’s a lot of laughter in Sue and Elaine’s bright west-end home. Kevin is home from Dalhousie University in Halifax, where he’s studying technical theatre, and the dogs—Jonathon, Victoria and Tobias—are jockeying for their share of attention. Jonathon has been on stage, in 2008’s High School Musical, and Kevin is talking about how, in the early days, they backed the car out of the garage and used the space to build sets. “It was busy,” he says. “And hectic.” Although he was a pre- teen, he got to be included in all the Suzart action. “I did everything. I started wielding a hammer and a power drill.” As one of his moms recalls, “The whole house was occupied.”
Together, they painted sets, created props, came up with costumes.
That’s a familiar scenario even now. A youngster joins Suzart and, pretty soon, parents and sometimes siblings are involved. “Suzart is about families working together. I think it brings them closer together—tackling all the new challenges,” Sue says. Each of the many productions over the years, from Hairspray to Beauty and the Beast, has presented its own unique possibilities and puzzles to solve.
“Our while philosophy is giving opportunities. Changing lives is a bonus.”
Sue Fowler Dacey and Elaine McCausland
Since the company performed at the Ben Franklin Place Chamber until 2007, it was necessary to lay down a Masonite floor before each production because the place was carpeted. Their next location, St. Paul High School, had a real stage “and way too many seats.” It also had an orchestra pit … until it didn’t. In February of 2012, weeks before Suzart’s spring musical, they discovered the orchestra pit had been filled in. Permanently. There was no time to find another venue, so “we wound up putting the band in a classroom, with monitors.”
Every show, “you get to the point you’re not sure it will come together,” Elaine says. “But it always does. Everybody digs in and gets it done.” For instance, a week before the opening night of Hello, Dolly! the leading lady got sick. No Dolly. So musical director Holly Villeneuve stepped into the role and pulled it off.
That’s typical of how this popular organization succeeds. “There are no huge egos, no divas,” Sue notes. “No one gets any money out of Suzart.” Instead, participants get fun, friends, skills development, dancing, singing, and a very large, caring family.
Sue and Elaine have set the example. Once Suzart received its charitable status July 1, 2011, two weeks later, July 23, they got married. Instead of gifts they asked for contributions to Suzart, and $8000 was donated.
The whole community has benefited from that spirit of generosity. Not only is it very affordable for families to buy tickets to Suzart shows, it’s also inexpensive to be a member of the company. There’s a $30 yearly fee and people pay $20 for a script. That’s it.
Today, shows take place at Centrepointe Studio Theatre and rehearsals are at the Nepean Creative Arts Centre. Annually, there are company auditions.
Meanwhile, the “Suz” in Suzart Productions is learning there’s life outside the theatre. A few months ago she stepped down as the company’s president and artistic director, with Kristopher Tharris taking over as president and Kraig-Paul Proulx replacing her as artistic director. And while she now likes to say, “Not my problem!” Sue is still very much part of what’s happening.
People aged eight to 86 are involved, on and off stage, and if you’re not a performer, not to worry. For a cast of 30, there are 100 people behind the scenes. “You don’t have to be on stage to be part of things,” Elaine points out. Everyone is welcome.
“One thing that makes Suzart so unique is its inclusiveness,” Sarah says. “It is a safe, supportive environment, where teamwork is essential. I have been amazed and impressed by the amount of work done by countless volunteers, all doing their part to bring something special to the stage. Everyone is there because they are passionate about what they are doing, and that is an incredible thing to witness.”
Young Kevin and Griffin couldn’t agree more. The best thing about Suzart is the opportunities it provides, Kevin says. “You can do anything, you can try anything, and you’re encouraged to do it.”
“It has been the best thing I’ve ever been part of,” says Griffin, who is now 12. “The number one thing I’ve gotten out of it is confidence.” His faces lights up. “And love.”
About Suzart Productions
Annually, Suzart presents two main-stage shows, a summer program for kids and an adult-content show under its offshoot, Suzart After Dark. The next show, Sister Act, starts May 25. For details and tickets, see suzart.ca.