Suehyla El-Attar, Actor, Writer, Director & Dramaturge
MEET SUEHYLA EL-ATTAR
Suehyla El-Attar is an actor, writer, director and dramaturge who is currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the last ten years, she has worked on most of the stages in Atlanta including but not limited to The Alliance Theatre, Horizon Theatre, Synchronicity Theatre, 7 Stages, Dad’s Garage, Essential Theatre, and Georgia Ensemble Theatre. She has multiple Suzi Bass nominations with one win; and is the recipient of the Mississippi Theatre Association Playwright Award (2011) and the Gene Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award (2014).
Suehyla is currently developing a one-woman show entitled Nope. That’s Just My First Name, set to premiere at Horizon Theatre in its 2018 season. Read on to learn about Suehyla’s inspiration and the path that led her to work independently.
LET’S DO THIS
LDT: What path led you to Atlanta?
SE: I moved here to pursue a career in theatre, but I was looking for a job in radio.
LDT: What made you to decide to start working independently?
SE: I wish I could tell you. I just know that eventually… I had so many projects happening I couldn’t do a day job anymore. And do the focus that I needed. So I would take odd jobs here and there, which in some ways I still do, but they’re always entertainment based.
I don’t know how I got here. I’m thinking… I don’t know how it happened. I think that there was a time that making ends meet was extremely challenging, And it’s not like I’m wealthy now, but I definitely learned how to live better and within my means.
LDT: What is a typical day in your life?
SE: It changes every day. It just depends… you know, sometimes I write. Sometimes I am reading things. Sometimes I’m editing things, and that could be anywhere from video to audio. Sometimes I’m in rehearsals. And, sometimes I just go for a hike and am in rehearsals or actually in a show at night.
Most of my rehearsals are usually in the evenings so that leaves the day open. It’s almost project to project. Whatever needs my attention in the moment. I have to meet that deadline and move on to the next.
It’s so funny, someone said to me one time, “I never have any idea what you’re working on.”
My parents are originally from Egypt and they’re immigrants. My experience in the US was a little different. Especially because we’re immigrants in the south.
I’m a little old world. A little bit of a superstition. I don’t like to talk about work or what I’m working on for two reasons. That is because A) I spent my youth talking about great ideas and never following through.. B) When you talk about something and put it into the world too much, you lose the power for it.
LDT: What is your rose? Thorn? I.e. what frustrates or challenges you in your work? And what is the most valuable, exciting part?
SE: There are two things that are very challenging… It is finding the path for self-improvement to keep getting better than you were before. In the arts, it’s such a subjective experience, that the exposure to the multitude of opinions is overwhelming and it’s hard to tell. My struggle basically is never to sit in mediocrity and the fear that mediocrity has become accepted.
We are also part of the generations that seem to be really proving the short term memory of the country and of society. Because of that, things that have already been done, but haven’t been done in quite a bit of time are being re-done.
We keep treading on the same territory and it’s being done over and over again without doing something new. Even improving on that thing would be better.
There was a recent production that got rave reviews. It was a classic script. It’s a brilliant script. It always feels timely in some fashion. Everyone just raves about it. I saw the production and I was like, is something wrong with me? Am I harsh? This doesn’t feel outstanding. There were outstanding elements and the script was outstanding, but the overall experience was not.
Why did people attach themselves to a moment, instead of the overall? And because the moment is so outstanding, it’s the short-term memory. They allow the outstanding moment to affect the entire thing instead of looking at the picture as a whole.
It is the absence of critical thinking that becomes the challenge and the headache.
And the silver lining is when you do something where you almost start to fold into yourself. And you start to feel narcissistic. And you start to feel like you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. Or you’ve forgotten why you’re doing anything. And then someone will say to you, “thank you for giving me a voice. I didn’t have one until I saw this.”
LDT: What do you feel most proud about in your current role, with your current work?
SE: That I’m still doing it. It’s a hard career.
It’s fascinating – it usually attracts the people that suffer from the most insecurity. So part of your evolution within this craft is to acknowledge the insecurity and try to figure out how to not be a slave to it so you can grow.
It’s always there.
All you can do is strive to focus on the story whatever that may be. Whatever aspect you’re focusing on within it. I constantly want to quit and think poorly of myself, but I’m still doing it. And that is an accomplishment.
LDT: What is your target audience? Who do you work with?
SE: You know there’s not a… it’s so funny you ask that.
Sometimes I’ve been wondering if I would have a career if 9-11 hadn’t happened. My audience ends up being, with the pieces I write, people who just want to know more. But overall, I keep on hoping to reach beyond preaching to the choir.
Who I wish my audience was is someone outside of the choir. I’m still trying to figure out how to make that happen.
Anytime you’re working with someone who is uber conservative… Even liberals who think that way have closed off walls, even when attempting to be open. So when you speak to someone who has already made up their mind, how do you get them in the door?
LDT: How do you get them to be open again?
SE: How do you get them to be open? I have no idea, yet.
And, I think that’s another thing that leads to mediocrity.
We get in the habit of speaking to the choir. We think people are being reached. When you tell the story to people who already agree with the story, then there’s no experience. There’s no journey.
If you offer a journey to an audience who’s not expecting it and they end up on the other side of something they never thought they would be. That’s something to strive for.
LDT: What is your outlet from work? What is your passion, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
SE: On a very personal level, my parents were never really encouraging. Never. And what happened was, and it’s taken me 20 years to really take it in… There were a lot of people who believed in me and so I owe it to them to get better.
LDT: How do you maintain work-life balance?
SE: Oh god. That’s not even possible. You just spoke English, but I don’t understand the words that came out of your mouth.
LDT: What do you want to do next? What is your next goal or initiative?
SE: I’m hoping to delve into TV writing and am working with a great group of people who are helping me learn.
Right now is a terrifying moment for me. I can say without a doubt learning in front of people is what I hate the most. The only way to make it in this life is to fail.
I grew up with a father that was like if you fail, then you obviously can’t do it. I think that’s what drew me to theatre. I did it well enough the first time, but you learn to keep doing it better. Learning in front of people is really shitty, but it’s the only way to keep going. And it’s one of the main bones of theatre: try something, make a choice, the only fail is not trying.
LDT: What kind of connections are you looking to make or need?
SE: Again, I work in the negative. It’s so sad. I’d rather tell you who should not reach out to me.
I don’t want anyone to reach out to me to learn the quickest, easiest way to do something. How did I do it? I don’t want any of that.
And the way I did it, it’s just never going to be something that’s going to be available to anyone else. Everyone’s experience is different. And should be.
LDT: How do you think your industry is going to change in the next 5 years? 10 years?
SE: I don’t know. With Trump in office and the possibility of funding being cut to the arts…
I don’t know if anyone else saw this. After 9-11 there was a resurgence of horror film and torture films. I kept watching that and wondering why. And I thought oh, it’s controlled terror.
We have an entire nation that suffered through an attack from a foreign entity on our land. So it happened on the continental United States and I think it just shocked everybody. And the response was audiences who wanted controlled terror. They wanted to walk into a movie theatre that gave them something that frightened the shit out of them and ended. I don’t know if anyone else saw that.
Maybe a revolution can happen. Maybe it will die. I don’t know. Even if Trump wasn’t in office and we were still with Obama and you asked me what would happen in the next five years, I would say I don’t know. I never know.
LDT: Where would you like to be able to put more time and focus more energies?
SE: My writing and also growing as an actor and director. So everything! Laughs. Just everything.
I wish I had time and resources to volunteer more in my community. That’s what I wish I could do.
Each interview on Let’s Do This features a guest question from a previous collaborator. This question comes from Greg Schermbeck, Founder of Schermco, a company that helps organizations create new initiatives in K-12 education.
Greg Schermbeck: What are you thinking about doing that you’re scared of?
SE: I don’t have an answer. Thoughts that run through my mind are well… I’m scared every day.
I basically just do things that scare me all the time. Like I said, on a personal level, it’s not anything extraordinary but it’s big for me because I am scared all the time. Calling my senators in the morning is scary for me.
LDT: What’s your question for the next interview?
SE: How do you know that you really want what you’re working for?
LDT: What people or type of people would you like to read interviews from on Let’s Do This?
SE: God, Jesus, Moses. I’d like to know if they were real and the interview would prove that. So that would give me something to work off of. I think that would answer everything. That would be just great.
Let’s Do This! Stop, Collaborate & Listen
If you’re interested in a future collaboration or learning more about Suehyla El-Attar and her one lady show, you can connect and follow her journey using the links below.
- Website: http://suehyla.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- YouTube @SuehylaElAttar
- Twitter @suehyla
- LinkedIn: Suehyla El-Attar