Susan Poulin is Franco-Fry

By Juliana L’Heureux

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Boastfulness is simply not in the nature of a typical Franco-American. Nevertheless, sometimes other, mostly non-Franco-Americans, pick up the banner. That's what happened when Franco-American actress Susan Poulin, of Berwick, was recently selected as one of Maine's 10 most intriguing people by Portland Magazine. Poulin is a Franco-American who was born in Jackman, ME. where she lived until she was eight years old. She grew up in Westbrook.

She's a graduate of the University of Southern Maine in Gorham where she studied drama. "I'm just blown away to see how positively non-Franco are responding to my identity," says Poulin.

Poulin was notified about the Portland Magazine selection during a difficult time while her mother was very ill. Consequently, the selection didn't have a chance to sink in for awhile. Unfortunately, her mother recently died at home surrounded by Poulin and members of her family.

Typical of a modest Franco-American, Poulin says she has no idea why Portland Magazine picked her for the list. "Perhaps it was to include a Franco-American," she says. Actually, one reason might be because Poulin's artistic work, particularly her autobiographical play, "Franco-Fry or Pardon My French", is receiving notice. She wrote the play, and the music with her husband Gordon Carlisle and performs in it.

"Working on Franco-Fry brings me back to the smells of my childhood. This play is about relearning our French language," she says. Poulin lost her French language when her family moved from Jackman to Westbrook. There's laughter of recognition from the audience to her play when she says, "If I can learn to speak French, then I'll heal the ache in my body".

"My ache to learn my heritage is more like a sharp and growing pain. I'm receiving an extraordinary response to this feeling," she says.

"The thing that gets my heart is to see how Franco-Americans as well as non-Francos identify with the play. I look out into the audience and I'll see somebody who could be related to me, another Franco-American. It could be my parents' generation, or someone else. I'm awed to know that, as these people travel home, they're talking to their children and to others about the play," she says. Actually, there's a different response from audiences every time "Franco-Fry is performed. For example, the multi-generational audience at the University of Maine in Orono related easily to the theme about her loss of language. On the other hand, up north in Fort Kent, where French is already the primary language for many people, the thought of loosing the language isn't funny. Rather, loosing the French language is a scary situation for people in Northern Maine, says Poulin.

It took Poulin two years to write "Franco-Fry". "I really dug deep into myself to write the play," she says. "Sometimes, I'd be writing and crying at the same time," she says. It's actually been 10 years since Poulin became aware of her "ache" to re-learn the French she lost when she was 8 years old. "I'm trying to get my heritage and language back." She frequently stays after the performances of "Franco-Fry" to conduct workshops on language re-acquisition. She's currently taking French lessons. "I'd love to be bi-lingual," she says. "Franco-Fry" will be performed on February 13th, at LA-Arts, in Lewiston; and in Waterville on March 6th at the Family Life Center at Blessed Hope Church. On April 8-11th, "Franco-Fry" will be performed at Portland Stage Company Studio Theater on Forest Avenue.

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Copyright 2003, Juliana L'Heureux