Susan Gundunas is quite the artist.
She’s a professional actor, a vocalist specializing in a wide variety of styles including opera, and a voice teacher who runs a classical singer boot camp.
In the training she has both given and received over the years, she has learned that some of the most critical lessons don’t take place in the classroom, but come from just living life’s ups and downs.
Traveling the world to sing some of opera’s most iconic roles are certainly career highlights. But she’s also experienced some of the lows that life can offer.
And now, Gundunas has taken all of life’s experiences into her latest acting project.
The 1982 Tony Award winning musical “Nine,” which also won the Tony for best revival in 2003, makes its way to 3Below Theaters and Lounge in San Jose. The musical, based on the semi-autobiographical Federico Fellini film “8 1/2,” focuses on the midlife crisis of filmmaker Guido Contini and the beautiful women that dominate his life, set in 1960s Venice. His crisis is blocking every ounce of his creativity, putting his focus on affairs of the heart instead of his artistry.
For Gundunas, Guido’s personal demons are something she experienced firsthand.
“My marriage fell apart when my ex went through a midlife crisis, and that was one of the reasons why I feel like I can step into this role.”
Tapping into the heartache she experienced wasn’t something she pushed against in preparing for the role of Luisa, Guido’s wife of 20 years. Instead, it was a piece of her past she embraced.
“It’s hard, but I would say I think any actor who is really serious about what they do has to plumb the depths of emotion,” said Gundunas. “It’s my job and one aspect of what I do in the show
“It’s kind of where I intersect with the character, but it’s necessary work.”
Gundunas has spent a good portion of her life on the Peninsula, now lives in San Francisco, and is thrilled to return to San Jose to work with the Guggenheim family. Shannon Guggenheim and her husband Scott have been a family affair throughout their time producing entertainment in the South Bay, very notably going back to their days when their venture the Retro Dome opened in September of 2009. The Retro Dome, which featured live musical theatre and lots of old and modern classic films with singalongs, lasted for nearly three-and-a-half years until their lease was not renewed. Along with Scott’s brother Stephen Guggenheim, who is playing the role of Guido, the company has claimed a strong foothold in downtown San Jose since early 2018.
One thing about Scott and Shannon – they wear many hats in the company. Whether it’s co-producing, serving as artistic directors, directors, choreographers or just doing anything to get a show off the ground, their philosophy of producing theatre also applies to the actors they hire.
“They use actors and singers that are very versatile,” said Gundunas. “If you’re playing a lead, you are playing multiple roles. We’ll also see you singing chorus as well. It’s very typical of how they do their shows.”
What Gundunas is enjoying more than anything is the varied cast that is participating in the production. A group which covers a wide swath of experiences has made her time preparing the show a lot of fun. It starts with working with Stephen again, a fellow Santa Clara University alumnus and someone whom she says is “Like a brother to me.”
“Our cast has very full lives much like I do – we have children, partners, husbands and we have other jobs, but we are really bonding over this common cause.
“It’s very special to be in a cast with talented people whom you really trust.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
3Below Theaters and Lounge presents “Nine”
Music and Lyrics by Maury Weston
Book by Arthur Kopit
Directed by Scott Guggenheim
3Below Theaters and Lounge
288 South 2nd Street (Formerly Camera 3 Cinema)
Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes with an intermission
Through Nov. 10th
Tickets range from $25 – $54
For tickets, call (408) 404-7711 or visit 3belowtheaters.com