Ask Suzanne Walsh (Ed Theatre '78) what compels her to go to work everyday at Convent of the Sacred Heart, and she'll say "scholarship." Her passion for art, philanthropy and education has been evident all her life. Beginning at 13, Suzanne volunteered to babysit for friends and neighbors for free; she loved interacting with children and that was reward enough. Later in life, this passion, combined with her newfound commitment to providing arts programming to a diverse group of kids, became her full-time job. It was a dream come true for Suzanne.
After growing up in Manhattan, Suzanne attended Connecticut College where she studied acting and directing at the Eugene O'Neill Theater under two-time Tony Award-winning actor and director Lloyd Richards and legendary theatre teacher Dorothy Heathcote, who invented the "mantle of the expert" approach to drama in education. In fact, it was Heathcote who first taught Suzanne that her love of theatre could also be a love of teaching. Suzanne recounts how Heathcote demonstrated "how to bring the arts alive and into education," eliciting Suzanne's ‘aha' moment where she finally realized, "That is what I want to do."
When Suzanne met with her advisor at Connecticut College and had to choose her major, she was told to pick between theatre and education. Knowing that she wanted to combine the two areas, she realized that the program at Connecticut College was no longer a good fit. She decided it was time to head back to the City and enroll in NYU's Educational Theatre Program. Only there could she combine her passion for both fields.
A clear multi-tasker, Suzanne kept busy after enrolling at Steinhardt, then known as the School of Education, Nursing, and Allied Health Professions. In addition to her Educational Theatre classes, she managed to find time to work with the Creative Arts Team at City University of New York, at the time an NYU partnership school. She also studied abroad at Bretton Hall in Yorkshire, England with Lowell and Nancy Swortzell, founders of the Educational Theatre Program at NYU.
Suzanne spent her summers working at the Charles River Creative Arts Program in Dover, Massachusetts, a job which affected her deeply. The summer arts camp provided an environment in which young people could pursue and develop an interest in the arts. Students picked their own schedules from a wide range of classes in visual and performing arts as well as sports and writing. It was here that Suzanne found purpose, as she watched the kids blossom in a myriad of ways.
Her senior student-teaching project at NYU drew upon her experience in England; she orchestrated a session with medieval drama that culminated with a performance of Noah's Flood at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. While working on the project, Suzanne realized that while the seniors at Sacred Heart would get together to do a play each year, there was no formal theatre program at the School. After graduating from NYU with an Award for Outstanding Students, she convinced Sacred Heart to hire her part-time.
At Sacred Heart, Suzanne organized an extensive fundraising effort, collecting donations from parents which enabled her to establish a Drama Department. She created a mandatory public speaking class, an idea borrowed from her story-telling course at Steinhardt. The class enabled students to build confidence in themselves in a public, theatre-like setting. Although she loved her position at Sacred Heart, Suzanne "felt like there was something missing."
She met Cliff Robertson. Robertson was a Sacred Heart parent and had just been black-listed by Hollywood. He was an Academy Award winner and whistle-blower in the famous 1970's Hollywood embezzlement scandals. Robertson encouraged Suzanne to pursue her dream of bringing the Charles River Creative Arts Program to Manhattan.
"He was my quiet donation, [and vote of confidence that said] ‘I believe in what you're doing, ‘" Suzanne recounts. "I knew we could [create this program] but only if we incorporated scholarship kids."
Suzanne achieved her goal of creating a diverse program that serves students regardless of their socio-economic conditions. Today, the Creative Arts Summer Camp, housed at Sacred Heart, enrolls more than 250 aspiring young actors, dancers and writers from all over the City. Each summer, 20% of the students who participate are able to do so because of the scholarship they receive through the Creative Arts Scholarship Fund. The administrative elements for the program and fund take up most of Suzanne's year, but come June, camp is in full swing and it all becomes worth it as students come together under a shared love of the arts.
Suzanne encourages Steinhardt students and alumni to follow their passion; "Just get in there even if you have to volunteer...just get the practice and you'll find out if you really want to do it. Practice your craft. Do it."
To learn more about the Convent of the Sacred Heart's Creative Arts Summer Program or Education Theatre at NYU Steinhardt, please visit http://www.cshnyc.org/arts/creative_arts_summer_program/index.aspx and http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/edtheatre .