We had the good fortune of connecting with Susanna Vaughan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Susanna, how do you define success?
I define success as identifying a goal and working toward achieving that goal. I break down my goals into smaller, achievable steps, and as long as I’m making progress, I’m successful. Sometimes along the way, our goals shift and need to be re-evaluated. Sometimes we realize what we’ve been working toward isn’t what we want or need after all, so we make a change. I believe that’s success, too. Having the humility, courage, and self-awareness to make a change and keep moving forward is a triumph.
I don’t believe I’ll ever say, “Ah, I’ve made it. I’m a ‘success.'” There is always more to learn, more room to grow, more horizons to chase. Everyone must define what success looks like for them, and not by what the world says it is.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m an actor, singer, dancer, director, choreographer, and theater educator. I believe what sets me apart, and what makes me an expressive performer and empathetic educator, is my access to and engagement with vulnerability. Vulnerability is scary and difficult, but absolutely essential to being our authentic selves, on and off stage.
Currently, I’m most proud of and excited about my musical theater students! Their resilience, determination, and progress during the pandemic have inspired me and carried me through his difficult year.
To get to where I am today professionally took a lot of hard work and determination. It was not easy! For six years I worked retail and eight-to-five jobs and pursued theater and creative endeavors in the evenings and weekends. I then auditioned for graduate school and fulfilled my dream of getting an M.F.A. and becoming an educator. I now teach, direct, choreograph and perform, while still taking the occasional side-job. This industry is always a hustle! I wouldn’t have accomplished all this without the emotional (and sometimes financial) support of family and friends along the way.
On this wild journey, I’ve learned to recognize when I’m in over my head and need to ask for help. I’ve learned that my time is valuable and I don’t need to say yes to everything. I’ve learned that time with family and friends is more precious to me than getting ahead, and sometimes that means I’ll lose out on career opportunities, and that’s OK. I’ve learned that you have to have incredible belief in yourself and incredible humility simultaneously, and that’s hard. I’ve learned that everyone feels like an imposter at some point.
I want the world to know that I’m a passionate storyteller and theater artist who strives to foster understanding across lines of human difference. I’m a fervent believer in education, whether it’s in a formal institution or on your own. The pursuit of art, knowledge, and personal growth is what makes life exciting and beautiful.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
First, spend a day at Balboa Park. Walk through the beautiful fields and gardens, visit the San Diego Zoo and the Natural History Museum, ride the carousel, take pictures in front of the Botanical Building, and eat at Prado. End the day by seeing a show at The Old Globe.
Second, spend an afternoon at Coronado. Rent bikes and ride around the quaint neighborhoods or rent kayaks and paddle around the bay. Or both! Spend some time on Coronado Beach and have dinner at the Hotel del Coronado.
Third, you have to explore downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. The plethora of pretty architecture and trendy bars and restaurants make it an exciting place just to walk around. Have lunch at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto in Little Italy. If you’re a fan of seafood, you have to dine at The Fish Market on the pier near the USS Midway. Might as well tour the USS Midway, too, if you enjoy nautical history. You should also check out the Horton Grand Hotel for some historic, chic atmosphere. Grab drinks at Salt and Whiskey next door and see a show from San Diego Musical Theatre at the Horton Grand Theater.
If you’re there during baseball season, catch a game at Petco Park. The San Diego Central Library is also an architecturally unique and calming place to sit and enjoy coffee and a book.
Fourth, if you’re willing to drive a little bit north, check out what’s playing at La Jolla Playhouse on the campus of UCSD. A little further north is Moonlight Amphitheater, with outdoor seating and summer musicals, concerts, and movie nights. It doesn’t feel like summer until you bring your picnic and see the latest show at Moonlight.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First of all, I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mom, Barb. From driving me to dance classes and after-school musical theater programs, volunteering and fundraising, and helping support me through college, my mom always believed in me and told me I could accomplish whatever I set my mind and heart to.
Secondly, I wouldn’t be where I am personally and professionally without the graduate musical theater program at San Diego State University. That’s where I truly learned how to be the artist and educator I wanted to be. The instruction, mentorship, and friendship I gained from my professors and my cohort are beyond value.
Larry Sandez, Member Photography