Strutter Q&A: Carmina Suzanne
Carmina Suzanne is a plus size model, musician, and Multiple Sclerosis advocate. She is also the founder and chief executive officer of MODAL Productions, a fashion and music mentorship, diversity advocacy, life coaching, and career consulting company. The rest of us are lazy by comparison. Suzanne had a few minutes to chat with Strutter about her diagnosis, her motivation, and her impressive vocal range.
Strutter: How did hearing of your prognosis of MS first affect you?
Carmina Suzanne: I have been suffering with what we called Mystery Disease for 12 years, which ate up a massive chunk of my life. After over a decade of mystery seizures, blindness, nausea, vomiting and intense pain, I was diagnosed early in 2016 with both MS, and a rare spinal fluid pressure disorder. After that I went through a very dark period, but I now have clarity and focus. I’ve had bad health problems my whole life, so in a sense being restricted is par for the course for me but I was always able to make a go of it. I’ve had seizures on stage [as an opera singer] but kept performing, as the show must go on. But these past six months I took a break from both singing and modeling to get my health in order, which was devastating but necessary. Now I’m back, baby! So the MS diagnoses wasn't as a big a deal for me as it is for others; not only was I relieved I finally knew what I had, but it’s just a drop in the bucket of my health problems.
What was your motivation to go out on the lecture circuit?
I still present academic lectures, both for specialist and general audiences, which I really enjoy. Every year I give a talk for National Opera Week, and in 2014 I was recognized as having one of the top 15 events in the country by Opera America. But in fact I often talk about modeling and diversity advocacy in my public speaking. One of my specialties is giving media interviews, in a variety of languages. I’ve been on stage since I was 8, so talking off the cuff in front of a group comes very naturally to me.
What is it like going on stage to perform?
As a model, it’s where the magic happens. Same as with acting and singing. You have to adjust every second based on the venue, the lighting, the audience response, what your fellow actors or models are doing… it really keeps you on your toes. I will admit that by the end, I’m usually thinking “stop clapping, I have to pee!”
As an advocate of MS awareness and body positivity, how does this tie into your work with MODAL?
I am still a working model, so my MS awareness and body positivity advocacy is done through that facet of my career as well as through MODAL Productions. In many cases I let my work speak for itself: If a 41-year old with seven major diseases can pull this off, then maybe it will inspire someone else! I truly feel my purpose on this earth with a broken body is to help other people feel better about theirs.
Who do you represent at MODAL? Success stories?
I have a range of clients, from aspiring plus models, to mid-career professionals. I’m very proud of some of the plus talent I’ve been developing in Buffalo; I have two advanced clients in the acting and opera worlds who are doing amazing things too. I was able to bring one of my clients, Sarah Jane, to New York City with me to walk in a show at a beautiful art gallery in Harlem. MODAL was one of the media sponsors for the event, and Sarah will appear in a magazine that covered the show as well. So that is my goal, to develop local talent for placement in major markets.
What is your proudest moment?
Some of my proudest moments include: Getting my Masters degree from Harvard; walking in Pulp’Fashion Week Paris then signing with Agence Plus; one of the top plus agencies in the world; appearing on "Jeopardy!," and singing amazing Baroque operas in Venice.
What is tougher to do: Modeling for a camera, speaking in front of a group of people by yourself, or performing a challenging vocal arrangement with the choir?
While I do sing in consorts, I am mainly a solo singer in opera, classical, jazz and folk. With all my stage experience I rarely have stage fright; I also am very used to public speaking and giving interviews. I love being in front of the lens, so I’d say runway is a bit more challenging for me.
What is in the future with MODAL? With your MS awareness? With you?
I’m going to be based in South America for a while starting this summer. In fact I’m working with the newly-formed Agencia y Academia Plus Size Chile in Santiago to develop and nurture the plus scene down there. MODAL is going global! I will be leading workshops through the Academy to train the aspiring curvy talent in Chile. I also have clients across the United States that I continue to mentor in MODAL’s unique, personalized approach.
In terms of MS and my other two severe neurological diseases, all I can do is the best I can every day. I know my limits, and those can change from day to day, so I work as efficiently as I can so when I need to rest, there’s flexibility in my schedule. The sky is the limit!