A chat with… Susan Helms
DARIEN — For Susan Helms acting and volunteering have been two of her most important passions.
A Massachusetts native, Helms lived in South America before coming to Darien with her family. She became an active member of the community by joining the Darien Arts Center board of directors, the British Women’s Pantomime Troupe and organizations like the Boy Scouts.
The 57-year-old, fresh from a ninth performance of “Cabaret”, discusses her role in acting and the community.
Q: How long have you been with the Darien Arts Center?
A: I’m on the board of directors and have been on it for six or seven terms — each term is three years. I was off the board for about 10 years when my youngest child was little. It’s a great group of people some of the more creative ones in Darien and it’s refreshing to be around them.
It’s not easy to run an arts center when you have a lot of emphasis on sports but these people are incredibly dedicated.
I joined because of Jon Sherwood, he was another board member at the Darien Arts Center. I would see him around town and he told me that he thought I would really enjoy being a board member.
Q: How did acting become an interest of yours?
I started when I was in a high school play and I thought about making it into a thing and going to graduate school to study drama. I had a friend who was also interested in that and I bumped into her in New York City and she was really struggling and so I thought that I wouldn’t make it.
Years later as a young mother in Darien, I met some British women and they wanted to establish their own show for their kids growing up in the states. There was this show called the British Women’s Pantomime Troupe — the show is crazy and slapstick and can also be very risque.
Q: How did you join the Troupe?
One of my neighbors knew a theater teacher, Larraine Brandon, who was in the Pantomime group. I called her up and she asked if I could step in for a play in the stepmother role in “Cinderella.” It was an outdoor performance at Norwalk at the Veterans Park. There was a stage that dropped down from a truck and our dressing room was the public restroom. I have done it ever since which was about 25 years ago now.
Unfortunately, we’re taking a year break.
A group of internationals made the Pantomime group and we donated money to the Young Women’s Christian Association. We were donating our money and unfortunately the price of renting town hall was so expensive that the girls felt that for all the work we put in, we couldn’t contribute much to charities and we that we were paying too much for town hall. I hope we can get the group back.
For now, I was in “Cabaret” and it’s a very different group and kind of production and I liked it.
Q: Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from Salem, Mass. and I came to Darien in 1991. I was married and had been living with my husband in South America — particularly in Lima, Peru and Caracas, Venezuela.
Peru is a most amazing place. I got a job there teaching — there weren’t many Americans or English speakers there — but upper class Peruvians had dreams for their kids to speak English. There was a tight expatriate community and I started meeting many Peruvians.
My job was very fun. It was interesting seeing the culture there coming from Salem. I remember taking drives up the mountain and seeing how people lived there, I had never imagined such a thing.
Q: How did you begin volunteering in town?
I wanted to help and be useful in the community. I started out with the Parent Teacher Organization at Holmes Elementary School. I still work at the Boy Scout tag sale. They have all these sort of events but the tag sale is something else, it’s an example of how amazing this community is.
There are organizations like the Darien Arts Center and the Boy Scouts that contain volunteers who work so hard, very modestly. They are so talented and are hardworking people who contribute so much to this town and this is why I do things as a volunteer because the people are just so great.
There’s a group of people who have different interests. A lot of kids are into sports and there are many talented athletes. My son loved outdoors and camping and we had the Boy Scouts as a good outlet for them. Many people don’t know about the Darien Arts Center, it’s a great influence for this town and for kids who really feel left out because they don’t like sports. They have fabulous courses and art shows and all kinds of dance.