Suzanne Pedersen sings her swan song
BRECKENRIDGE – Near the end of “The Oldest Profession,” a play about five elderly prostitutes struggling to survive in the Big Apple, the brassy broad Ursula finds herself in a predicament. A prostitute by profession, Ursula has slid into markets everywhere from the Red Light District of New Orleans to the seamy stables of New York City. Now, standing at the gates of whore heaven, she’s not so sure she will get in.”I don’t have any place else to go except down!” said Suzanne Pedersen (who plays Ursula by night) at her home Tuesday afternoon. Pedersen is sitting in the sun room of her cabin near the Wellington Neighborhood in Breckenridge, and the 62-year-old looks anything but bawdy. Her arms and legs are folded comfortably into a wicker chair, as if they’ve spent years grooving that position with family and friends. A magenta scarf is wrapped below her grandmotherly face. Classical music is even playing on the radio.But Pedersen is quick to remind, she’s not on stage – yet.”I’m the troublemaker, a real obnoxious broad,” Pedersen said of her role in the play. “I’ve probably had a few abortions in the past.”She goes on to explain that Ursula is a saucy woman with a kick of German heritage and a tough-love past – a harlot before high school, still a hooker in her 70s.
“I’ve always loved clowning around, hamming it up,” Pedersen said. “(My past roles) have brought a lot of humor into my life. I’ve played a lot of villains, a lot of bad girls.”But Ursula, the aging lady of pleasure, has a special place at Pedersen’s side. After more than 40 years in the county, the Breckenridge actress has resolved to bring her theater career (and her time in Summit) to a close with “The Oldest Profession.” Come October, she will move back to the Philadelphia suburb of North Whales, where her life began 62 years ago.In other words, Ursula will be Pedersen’s last act.
Suzanne Pedersen found a permanent home in Summit County the way most locals do. In 1966, she packed her stereo and all her clothes into a 1958 Carmengia, signed off on a teaching job in New Jersey and headed for the Colorado Rockies. A few days later she passed through the quaint town of Frisco on Highway 6. As Pedersen described it, Summit County didn’t leap out of the mountains in those days. There were neither stop signs nor traffic lights in Breckenridge. The ski industry was young, with only eight or nine ski instructors in total. And the towns were still stuck in a 1930s stupor.”They were so dilapidated that everyone was happy when it snowed,” Pedersen joked. “It covered over all the junk cars and laundry machines.”Nonetheless, Pedersen decided to give the mountains a try. She saw a sign for a teaching position at the new Summit County School and pulled off the road for an interview. Within hours, she was officially one of county’s two fourth-grade teachers.”It feels like 10 years ago, and it’s 40,” Pedersen reflected, looking over at a slew of boxes packed for Pennsylvania. “I’m sure my heart will be torn when I leave Breckenridge and start my next chapter in Pennsylvania. But I have so many happy memories.”Many of the best moments belong to the theater.
After marrying hall of fame ski instructor Olav Pedersen in 1969 (a romance that began with a hike to the top of Mount Royal), Pedersen got her acting career under way at the Backstage Theatre in Breckenridge in 1972, then located beside Maggie Pond. In the years that followed, she acted in over 60 productions in the county, assuming roles in such plays as “The Mouse Trap,” “Peter Pan” and “Shirley Valentine.” In addition, she has dyed her hair red, taken on a heavy English accent and even impersonated a male pirate in her 33 years on stage.All of which has culminated in her role in “The Oldest Profession.” As Ursula, Pedersen is working beside four friends and fellow veterans of the Summit County stage. Fittingly, Wendy Moore, who plays the madame of the stables in New York City, was Pedersen’s first director at the Backstage Theatre in the 1970s.”This play really is a wonderful way to say goodbye to theater in Summit County,” Pedersen said. “I feel very fortunate because acting was my hobby. I was never tall. I was never thin. I couldn’t dance. “But I could be a character.”Andrew Tolve can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227, or at email@example.com.
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