Since moving to East Sussex 12 years ago, Sue Schlesinger’s career in performing arts has made her a sought after choice for voluntary roles within creative organisations. She recently stepped down as the first Chair of the Rye Studio School governing body but remains on the committee and speaks highly of the school officially opened in 2014 by Michael Gove and which has just been awarded an “Outstanding”’ in all areas by Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). She also helps with the Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival, is a volunteer with Hastings International Piano Festival, and has in the past been on the committee for the Rye Arts Festival.
I was curious about the name Schlesinger and there is indeed a connection to the famous film director John Schlesinger who is perhaps most well known for Midnight Cowboy, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, Marathon Man and Far from the Madding Crowd. Sue’s home, an Oast House outside Rye, was once his country retreat and when he died in 2003 he left it to his brother Roger – Sue’s husband.
Roger Schlesinger was a book publisher who worked at Collins and published books by Michael Foot, Roy Jenkins and Ludovic Kennedy amongst others. Previously he had his own publishing company producing childrens’ pop up books which are now very popular with buyers of vintage books. Sue and Roger left London in 2003 and made East Sussex their home. Sadly Roger died only four years later but Sue decided to stay and became actively involved in the arts in and around Rye as well as running holiday lets in the barn within her property.
Born in Chichester, she went to a local dancing school where she developed a love of dancing, ballet and musicals and gained a scholarship to ballet school. “I became a professional dancer, my first job being in pantomime at the London Palladium with Charlie Drake, Janette Scott, Gary Miller, Jackie Rae. Then a summer season with Harry Secombe and musicals such as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Little Me starring Bruce Forsyth”. TV and film work was plentiful – almost a year on the film of Oliver and two series of the Tom Jones show on TV .
Sue’s rich theatrical voice suggests that she didn’t limit her roles to dancing. “I got a lucky break and moved into acting at York repertory theatre as an assistant stage manager. When the actress playing the parts I might have played if I hadn’t been an ASM fell off the stage and broke an arm I got to play all her parts”. She worked alongside Martin Wimborne who many Ryers will know for his one man shows on Wellington. Other performances included principal girl with Jimmy Logan in Newcastle, a season in rep at Canterbury and a role in the film The Great Waltz in Vienna with Horst Buckholz and Rossana Brazzi followed which indirectly led to an audition for the musical Billy with Michael Crawford at Drury Lane. There was also a 13 episode TV series about the adventures of three girls in Europe which never saw the light of day – the project ran out of money whilst filming in Spain.
Sue and Roger started married life in a flat in Baker Street and later moved to Putney where many of their friends were theatrical. Sue said “Roger was a close friend of Dave Allen and they used to have hysterical times together. There was a lot of laughter”. She continued to work after having her son and daughter (now aged 36 and 39) but she found performing and childcare too difficult to juggle and after a few parts in television she cut back and changed direction and studied on a two year diploma in ceramics. Her family has now grown to three grandchildren and seven step-grandchildren.
Sue retired from the committee of the Rye Arts Festival in 2006. During her time on the committee she brought The National Youth Theatre to Rye and was proud that she was able to attract the late Susannah York to the Festival performing Shakespeare’s Women. A great supporter of the Festival she reflected on the fact that the literary events and music events bring in the bookings but the drama slot has been more difficult to fill.
Sue had been a school governor in London and has been a governor of Rye College since she moved to the area. Her experience, combined with her artistic background, meant that when the Studio School was formed she was seen as the ideal person to take on the role of Chair of the Governors.
The Rye Studio School was a new concept and she has seen it develop over the last couple of years. She is very positive about their successes. “I think it is a great place – the kids arrive afraid to say “boo to a goose” and you watch them grown in confidence. Learning is project based over a variety of subjects and includes some amazing work experience placements. Two or three times a year they have to give presentations to the staff and their peers on their progress. The teaching staff work hard to get pupils on an upward trajectory – not all of them starting at a high baseline but it is a brilliant idea and Jo Townsend is a fantastic principal – very aspirational for all the kids”.
Sue’s energetic manner and enthusiasm for the arts has led to a variety of community roles. She is currently volunteer manager of the Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival box office. With nine concerts over four days, tickets are already on sale. You can download the Festival brochure here or find further information and book online at www.peasmarshfestival.co.uk
Photos: Sue Schlesinger