Biographies | Susan Gibney
Actress Susan Gibney is wildly enthusiastic about the craft of her profession, madly in love with theater, and far less impressed with the business of movies and television. She has played an enormous variety of leading and supporting roles in all three venues. Her wide interests, role flexibility, and unique ability to read other actors have given her great recognition as an actress and several entirely new career opportunities in her later return to Webster and the Rochester area.
Susan was born on September 11, 1961, in Manhattan Beach, California, the sixth of eight siblings. She says that being part of a big family gave her the confidence to handle many situations and personalities, to read people, and understand how to work with them. Barbara White, Susan’s mother, recalls that she was a quiet and expressive child, not one to be dramatic at home, but that her friends thought of her as more outgoing than quiet. Barb says that Susan may have inherited her dramatic talent from her father who acted in local theater in California.
In 1968, her mom drove all nine members of the family from California to Brighton, NY where they lived for six months before moving to Webster. Susan was seven when she began her acting career at Most Precious Blood Elementary School where she made sets and starred in the first-grade production of Hansel and Gretel. She ran lines with her mom and remembers getting a new dress for the event. Except for the year she spent as a Schroeder cheerleader, her extra-curricular activity of choice was, from that production on, school plays. Susan recalls that weeks of early summer were spent, by all the neighborhood children, building elaborately themed and constructed floats for the Kiddie Parade portion of the annual Fireman’s Carnival.
Susan graduated from Webster Schroeder High School with more theater in her resume than most aspiring actresses. However, she had other plans too. Susan continued to perform in college at Buffalo State but studied Political Science and Swahili in her first year there. Her African diplomatic aspirations were eventually overcome in her third semester when the head of the Theater Department began to take her to competitions and encourage her acting talent. She finished her second year as a theater intern in New York City, diplomacy taking a back seat to an earlier love. There she worked costume, wardrobe, and set, and acquired work as an Assistant Literary Manager off-Broadway at the American Place Theater, right across the street from the high school featured in Fame. This work required diverse skills, among them script reading, searching for actors, and, in one memorable revival of the American Medicine Show, becoming assistant sharpshooter and bull-whipper for an actor called Boots Daniels. Susan’s actor search once required her to place a phone call to Meryl Streep that provided a sort of window into the life of an actor. The famous and glamorous Streep needed to remind her children that “Mommy’s on the phone,” just like any mom.
Upon her return from New York City, Susan finished her bachelor’s degree in Theater at Empire State College. Friends, colleagues, and a Yalie in the Director’s program encouraged Susan to apply to Yale to complete her education. Inspired by her acting idol, Meryl Streep, who had taken a degree at Yale, Susan applied to Yale’s Theater program, which accepted ten men and five women each year out of 800-1000 applicants. After a determined three years, Susan was accepted and achieved her master’s degree in Fine Arts from Yale University. One of her Yale classmates told Susan’s mother that “Susie was to be our Meryl Streep.” Somewhere along the line, Susan worked for eighteen months as a chauffeur to help pay for college.
After her time at Yale, Susan returned to California where she had a family and a career in film, television, and theater. Susan credits her theater training and experience for her extensive career as an actress. She has acted in New York, Baltimore, Connecticut, Texas, Arizona, and California as well as Western New York in theater that included some contemporary scripts though mostly classics like Ibsen and Shakespeare. These experiences gave her wide emotive training as well as the ability to break down a script, understand her character and its relationship to the overall story, and integrate comfortably with already established actors.
Her reviews tell the story of her theatrical versatility and success. In 1992, Susan’s portrayal of tough-minded maid Dorine was deemed “pungent.” Some reviewers of Susan’s work in Mary Stuart acknowledged her “commanding performance.” Robert Hurwitt, theater critic for the San Francisco Examiner, said “Gibney hits the stage like a vital force of nature.” His 1999 review of The American Conservatory Theater’s production of India Ink acknowledged Susan’s ability to play many kinds of roles. “Gibney is a bright, breezily candid, and consciously alluring Flora.”
Between 1988 and 2020, Susan appeared in many, many movies and television shows while maintaining an active theater career. You will find compilations of Susan’s work in movies and television on the Internet Movie Database, as well as Wikipedia.
Susan says movies are a lot of work and can be a lot of fun. She starred with John Ritter in Unforgivable (1996). She was featured twice on StarTrek: The Next Generation as Dr. Leah Brahms and almost got to play Kathryn Janeway on StarTrek Voyager but was thought to be too young for the part. Those experiences got her noticed. She was named “Producers’ Best Find” in 1994 and she made quite an impression on Star Trek’s creatives. She was cast as Cheryl Lynn in the movie Waterdance, which received a 93% rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Her latest film was We Are Still Here, where she played Maddie.
Susan also says that it takes a great deal of stamina to work through LA’s pilot season for new shows: winter casting, spring choosing, and summer filming. The busiest season is the fall with 2-3 scripts a day to audition, read and rehearse. You have to be a quick study and be willing to do this over and over and over. She had roles in 1989’s Columbo and LA Law, in 1995’s Chicago Hope, in 2000/2001’s CSI, and in 2005’s Criminal Minds. She played Cynthia Fearing in The Fearing Mind, a Fox Family series. Her latest television role was Alice Burns in The Mentalist, though she’s perhaps better known as DA Renee Walcottin Crossing Jordan from 2002-2007.
Susan returned with her daughters from California to Webster in 2004 because, as she has said, “Webster is Mayberry.” (what a nice thing to say, Susan!) She wanted her daughters to grow up near family and in a place where life was simpler.
While living in Webster and later in the city, she has continued to work in film, TV, and theater, although on a more limited basis due to her new additional career directions. She still reads scripts and she still returns to Los Angeles and New York City as needed, but has been fully engaged in her family life and her new career as an educator. (Never one to turn down an opportunity, Susan can also boast of a brief foray into the world of a tool-and-die machine shop.)
Susan has said that “at every stage of life, there is a first time for something.” In her case, she has always enjoyed the opportunity during her acting career to help young actors grow and find their power. She knows that not every acting student will go the distance, but all can learn life lessons through the experience. She tells her students to be professional, respect other professionals and make something of everything they are offered.
Because coaching came naturally to Susan and she’d had a great deal of coaching experience in her career, it was not a great leap to her work as an adjunct professor at
Monroe Community College where she taught acting classes and helped to cast and stage student productions. At Roberts Wesleyan, Susan developed the Theater Department where coursework covered the history of theater, acting, directing, and stagecraft. Susan also directed several musicals and one-act plays there, and an opera or two as well. One of her favorite memories is the “24-Hour Theater” where students had 24 hours to write, cast, rehearse, and stage a play of their own.
People wanted more. Actors wanted to know how to audition, study scenes, and direct. Directors wanted to learn about acting, running auditions, and staging productions. Kids wanted a chance to act in classic plays like those of Shakespeare. Susan had never run a business, but she learned fast and opened her studio called Rogue Actors. It was successful. She learned on the job. She loved it. In 2015 at the Pittsford Library, in a program called “The Play’s the Thing: an Interactive Evening,” Susan shared her love of Shakespeare with the wider community.
In 2020, Susan has taken a hiatus from Rogue Actors, though she still coaches privately. She is considering options for sharing her love of theater and acting in new ways. Perhaps it is her innate versatility, creativity, and sense of adventure that keeps her balanced in a profession that sees so many others flounder in uncertainty and stress.
In any case, keep your eye on Susan Gibney. What will she do next?
- Gibney, Susan. Interview October 6, 2020.
- Hurwitt, Robert. “East and West, Art and Poetry Present and Past, Collide in India Ink,” San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco: February 25, 1999, pp. 35-36.
- Hurwitt, Robert. “When Royals Collide,” San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco: April 2, 1998, p. 43.
- Internet Movie Database. Susan Gibney. Accessed October 2020.
- Kissel. “Classic Con Artistry,” Daily News, New York: October 16, 1992, p. 195.
- Main, Stan. Interview through Rochester Movie Makers Director’s Forum.
- Vimeo: August 30, 2015.
- Staff Writer. “Now, Voyager Needs Trek Captain at Helm,” Daily News: New York: August 25, 1994, p. 898.
- Staff Writer. “The Play’s the Thing,” Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester NY: April 12, 2015, p. A21.
- Staff Writer. “Program Best Bets,” The Journal News, White Plains NY: October 21, 2000, p. 48.
- White, Barbara. Interview, October 20, 2020.
- Wikipedia. Susan Gibney. Accessed October 2020.