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by Strange Duck Media

Susanna Hamnett arrived at her acting career sideways – “rather like a crab” as director Christopher Morahan once observed, scrutinizing her resumé. Too shy at 18 to try out for drama school, she threw herself into Russian Studies at Cambridge University as well as in Russia and France. It was in Paris that a Russian actor and his wife persuaded her to follow her dream, and she won scholarships to study acting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, under the tutelage of renowned Shakespeare and Voice coach Patsy Rodenburg .

After graduating, she worked professionally in England and Europe with Red Shift, Orchard Theatre, Theatre Alibi (in association with Theater Gardiniesze), Anatoly Vassliev (National Theatre Studio), Target Theatre (ICA, London), Yoshi Oida, Emma Rice, and Mike Shepherd of Kneehigh Theatre among others, as well as a period at the Moscow Arts Theatre School.

She then moved to Toronto to train with master clowns John Turner and Michael Kennard (of “Mump and Smoot”), and found herself collaborating extensively with them, becoming more and more interested in the application of clown in theatre. She worked with Theatre Smith-Gilmour and Theatre Columbus and began developing and directing clown-based shows, looking to develp an authentic theatrical voice that could explore and marry disparate passions and disciplines: Shakespeare, clown, storytelling, vaudeville, the serious and the mischievous.

Susanna’s first full-length solo performance, Nearly Lear, was co-created with Edith Tankus, who also directed. It received its first public performance at the Winchester Street Theatre in Toronto, and has since toured to critical and audience acclaim throughout Canada, the United States and the UK, as well as a run on Broadway – at the New Victory Theater, and at the Sydney Opera House, Australia. In 2012 it received the International Performing Arts for Youth (IPAY) Victor Award for Outstanding Production. Nearly Lear continues to have performances whenever there is interest or an invitation, most recently at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, London, through an invitation from actress Geraldine James.

Susanna is also a committed artist-educator who has worked in Canada and the US with students of all ages, including teaching masterclasses for university and college students, directing productions of Shakespeare with young teenagers, creating programs for teaching Shakespeare to at-risk teenagers and Grade 1- 3 students in a Toronto inner-city school, and being a part of Lincoln Center’s Aesthetic Education Program. In  2012 the Kennedy Center’s Theatre for Young Audiences department in Washington, DC  commisioned her to work on a new solo script which she presented at New Visions New Voices the following year, and in 2014 she was honoured to be awarded the inaugural Colleen Porter Residency Award (IPAY), which took her to Australia and Tasmania.

More recently Susanna has moved back from Toronto to England, with a base in Winchester for the time being, and is working on a new show. Very occasionally she can be seen on TV.

“My work – I think – is the confused love child of two quite different approaches to theatre: a very traditional classically (Shakespeare) based theatre training and theatrical clown. It is this tension between being extremely over-earnest and serious, whilst longing for some riotous and mischievous foolery that seems to shape how I approach everything – performing, teaching and directing. Or maybe that’s just being British!”