By ALLISON PALMER
Local singer song-writer, single mother and music instructor Susan Wesson shares her life journey, from live shows to online concerts, with music partner Doug Balfour.
Wesson was born and raised in Toronto. Her family moved to Burlington when she was in high school and later attended McMaster University in Hamilton where she studied English and theatre.
Since Wesson studied theatre in school, she explored an acting career by playing small roles and some musical roles as well.
In the late 1990s, she moved back to Toronto where she worked in musical theatre including a production of Les Miserables.
She understudied the role of Eponine, a cynical yet resourceful eldest child, and was in the Ensemble. Wesson spent many years with the Les Miserables team, touring and even joining the Montreal tour where she was able to perform in the final show in French.
“I joined the Montreal company on tour, which was a unique company in that they did shows in English and French,” Wesson said.
In 1992, she joined a second tour of Les Miserables which included Honolulu and seven other cities. Over the next few years, she would take a break from singing to focus on raising her two sons, Ted and Gareth Poole.
In 2004, she became an itinerant music instructor for the Toronto District School Board. Her role there is to instruct teachers on how to teach their music classes.
In August 2016, Wesson returned to her singing life and went back to Les Miserables for the 25-year-anniversary concert. This time she played Madame Thenardier at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal. She played the English character while Eve Montpetit played the French speaking character.
She first met her musical partner Doug Balfour in the 1980s.
“When Doug and I perform together, we really mix up different styles of music, we do a bit of everything,” Wesson said.
In the mid 1980s they performed together for about four years as Suzi & Doug. They performed many different types of music from jazz, blues, Dixie, rock and more at clubs, bars, cafés and many other venues.
When Wesson moved back to Toronto in late 1990s , she and Balfour kept in contact and reunited in spring of 2014 when Balfour moved back to Toronto . Since then, the duo created social media platforms under Suzi Doug Music and started doing live performances once again.
“Basically, we do music we like and we like all kinds of music,” Wesson said.
Wesson said their last performance together was on March 11 at a French restaurant in downtown Whitby.
“We played there on March 11 just a few days before everything shut down,” Wesson said.
“Nothing beats live performances,” Wesson said.
Wesson and Balfour were booked to perform on St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, but because the province declared a state of emergency, the event was cancelled.
“We recorded a little goofy St. Patrick’s Day concert of three or four songs and we uploaded it to our Facebook page,” Wesson said.
She said people really responded to the live stream that currently has more than 1,000 views so they decided to upload a few more videos.
“At that point a few people were starting to do live-stream concerts and I thought well, we have the technology, why don’t we try live-streaming,” Wesson said.
She said she made an event page for the concert, posted on Instagram and on March 31 Suzi and Doug went live.
“Seeing people respond to you live and reading their comments, it feels connected,” Wesson said.
She said about 40 people watched the hour long stream overall so it was worth another try.
Before their second live-stream on April 16, they were a little bit more prepared and even had a tip jar available. By the third live-stream on April 30, Wesson said she wanted to raise money for veterans at Sunnybrook Hospital.
“A few people made some nice donations and we are just getting ready to transfer that over to them,” Wesson said.
She said they made around $300 from the live-stream and is currently working on getting the money to the hospital.
A month ago Wesson said she made a suggestion on the Les Miserables Facebook page for people who’ve played a role in the show. Her suggestion was for the cast of the musical to re-create One Day More, a big first act closer.
Originally she wanted to do it live, but later found out that wasn’t possible because of video delays.
She said someone she knew from the original cast, Todd Noel, made the suggestion to have everyone record a video of themselves and then edit the video with everyone singing the song.
They named it The Light Still burning and Noel posted the video on YouTube on April 27. Today that video has more than 151,000 views. Wesson added someone who goes by the name Angel of music on Facebook uploaded the video on their Facebook page and in addition received 30,000+ views.
Many events have been cancelled as of now for the remainder of the year but Wesson is hoping to get back to performing as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
“I think the one thing we do know is nothing is going to happen quickly,” Wesson said.
Wesson said she is looking forward to the days she can do live performances again because nothing beats that feeling.