The business of show is a crazy way to make a living, but former Richmonder Susan Gardner, who after majoring in theater at Virginia Commonwealth University went up to New York City and re-invented herself as RunAround Sue, has something going on.
Last year, through Sugar Shack Burlesque, which Gardner co-founded, she produced 107 shows throughout the country. She’s established a regular Wednesday-night dance party called Shaken & Stirred (at the Delancey), and she’s taking her act to Europe (not for the first time), where she’ll also follow up on her fascination with the history of chess. But that’s another story for another time.
Luck, they say, is preparation that meets with opportunity, and this is how it went: “The second assistant director Amy Lynn saw me two years ago in the Berkshires,” Gardner explains. “She contacted me through one of the musicians, and she emailed me a few weeks before Christmas. Would I submit videos and pictures for an upcoming project? I’ve been acting for a while now, and you give them what they ask for, but you don’t dwell on what it may end up being because it may be nothing.”
Then in early January, there came a call to set up a telephone meeting with Gray (Little Odessa, The Yards) and a busy producer named Anthony Katagas. Gray was casting about for information pertaining to a new project, set in New York’s Lower East Side circa 1919-1920, concerning an immigrant woman (Cotillard) who falls into the entertainment underworld and the clutches of a Svengali (Phoenix) who is the manager/pimp for a troupe of performers. This discussion led to a face-to-face meeting.
“I went in with my little 'look book,' and they asked me to help them create this world and act as their conduit into burlesque,” Gardner says. One of the early thrills was meeting with costumer Patricia Norris, whose award-winning credits include The Waltons, Days of Heaven, Scarface, The Elephant Man, in addtion to art direction for Twin Peaks.
“She’s an a-mazing woman,” Gardner enthuses. “She’s a genius. I spent time with her poring over vintage French magazines, researching the general shape of women’s bodies and talking about their relationship to clothes, and who at what level was buying and wearing what.”
Then came the hard tacks of business. Gardner was hired as Bruno’s Girl No. 1, “although on the call sheet it’s backslash 'Sue,' and that’s the name on my trailer,” she, well, giggles. “So I think she’ll be Sue.” Then there was a casting session at the Kaufman Astoria Studios to round out Bruno’s girls, involving Gardner, Phoenix and Norris.
“I called in eight of my dear friends, and from them three were chosen, one of whom is BooBoo Darlin'," otherwise known as Kendra Lansing, who is the former co-producer of Richmond’s Varietease Burlesque. She started dancing in Richmond and was performing here until a year ago, when she moved to New York.
“That was Jan. 23," Gardner says. "They made their selection and we started shooting on Monday.
The project has meant visiting the Tenement Museum, checking out the entertainment collections of the New York City Public Library, and being awake for set calls at 4:30 a.m. in order to get her hair and makeup ready, not to mention getting used to walking in the period shoes and clothes. “It’s all vintage,” Gardner says. “None of it is fabricated.” The clothes change the way one feels. she says. “The shoes force you to walk more on your heel, they’re pointed. The stockings’ elastic bands start cutting into your leg. Me, these days I’d leave my apartment and not comb my hair — these ladies set their hair before they thought about getting out of the house and slept a certain way to keep from flattening it out.”
Finally, the chess thing. It involves artist/chess master Marcel Duchamp and restaging a historic gallery show in December, with chess pieces designed by famous artists. Now that's more than the old bump and grind. Stay tuned.