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Artist of the Month - July 2016

Arts Council Menifee

Susan O’Connell’s creative forte has always been acting and she started writing as a means of creating a one-woman play so she could act even more.

Shirley Wible, the Adult Programmer at the Sun City Library and Arts Council Menifee Literary Division Chair, has had the pleasure of O’Connell presenting at the library for several adult programs.

“Her one-woman show ‘Memoirs of a Madam’ in which she portrays a Wild West madam with a big heart, received a standing ovation,” Wible said.

For her contributions at the art scene, O’Connell has been recognized as July’s Artist of the Month by Arts Council Menifee.

In her play, she portrays Denver’s notorious Mattie Silks. Although the subject matter of this production is the “painted ladies” of the old west, the stories are tastefully done and told with respect and often humor. She has been refining and performing the show since the 1980s and has presented it in five states.

“History tries to play down this particular field of endeavor but we can’t deny the contribution these ladies made to the settling of our country,” said O’Connell, of San Jacinto.

Strong family connections to the Wild West include her great-great-grandmother, Amelia Ann Earp, cousin of Wyatt Earp. Her character’s time period is the 1880s, which she has researched for her costumes and props.

“My grandfather, Willis O’Connell, was one of (Miles City) Montana’s best and well respected auctioneers and my father, Wes O’Connell, was one of the west’s last true cowboys,” she said.

Although her passion lies with educating people about this part of U.S. history, her writing skills continue to take her in many other directions. O’Connell started writing poetry in 2002 and fell in love with the process.

“Telling a story in rhyming verse is difficult; it’s like putting together a puzzle, all the parts must fit or you haven’t done it right,” she said.

Her connection to Arts Council Menifee began when O’Connell attended a poetry class sponsored by the Sun City Library and conducted by Wible. After hearing a few of her poems, Wible invited her to perform her one-woman play in the Arts Council’s Literary Division series, Word Matters.

“I was a featured poet and presented a 45-minute selection of my favorite poems based on the lives of the soiled doves of the old west,” she said.

Wible said all of O’Connell’s appearances are filled with her strong prose poetry stories and so popular they end in requests for more.

“She is a delightful person who wows her audiences with her fantastic writing and acting talents,” Wible said, “Susan writes, acts and directs in entertaining theatrical productions with zeal and a sly humor so if you get the chance, don’t miss the opportunity to see her perform.”

O’Connell has also directed two plays for the Ramona Hillside Players. Although she still loves to act and has received 13 Inland Theater League awards, she much prefers to perform her poetry.

“It just gives me such pleasure to hear and see the positive reactions. I tell a story and I think that’s what people want to hear,” she said. “My dream is to be able to travel with a group or on my own performing my poetry.”

She said it was a great thrill to have one of her poems published by American Cowboy Magazine online and one in its printed edition when she won first place in a poetry contest.

“I appreciate organizations like Arts Council Menifee because they provide artists such as myself a stage on which to perform and reach people who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to enjoy some new and exciting talent,” O’Connell said.

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