Katherine O’Sullivan: A Lifelong Student of the Arts

Katherine O’Sullivan Interview by Jen Bush

Katherine O’Sullivan will be starring in The Pilgrim Soul playing at Theatre Row starting on May 26th 2022.  She is a lifelong student of the arts who trained on two continents.  From stage to screen her talent is showcased across multiple genres.  “I am a performing artist.  My training began in Dublin’s Gaiety School of Acting and continued in New York, mostly at the Herbert Berghof Studio.  My training is ongoing.  I have been performing in New York City (mostly) for the last 30 years, in many different productions, covering different styles and formats; musicals, comedy, Shakespeare, classics, horror, devised – I love a challenge.”

It was easy for Ms. Sullivan to say yes when she was asked to be in The Pilgrim Soul because she had already performed a portion of it a few years back.  “As part of Poor Mouth Theatre’s “Putting on Your Shorts Festival” in 2018, Kate asked me if I would like to perform The Large Jar, which is the opening section of Pilgrim Soul.  I thought it would be a challenge, so I said “yes”.   Kate later expanded the piece to what it is now.  We worked with Siobhán Dunne to bring it to the Providence Fringe Festival in the summer of 2019.  We had plans to bring it to New York the following spring, but a pandemic got in the way.  So here we are now.”

Ms. Sullivan’s creative process is well rounded and multi-tiered.  It involves diligent study of the script, research, utilizing proven acting techniques and music for inspiration.  “It all starts with a good script.  Both Kate and Siobhán knew the woman who inspired Pilgrim Soul. I only know her through Kate’s writing and Siobhán’s inciteful direction.  As an actor, I will use whatever techniques work to bring a play to life.  I am grateful to work with Siobhán, who keeps me real.As I say in the play “I read up on…” Kabuki and Samuri sword fighting and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  I also watched a few youtubes. I find music very inspiring for my work.  Whether or not there is music or singing in a play, I like to have some music or a song that connects me to the play.  In Pilgrim Soul we are lucky to have the talented Donald Stark supplying the music.  Based on an old Scottish/Irish air, Don has worked The Parting Glass to great effect to inform the play.”

Sometimes an artist feels that undertaking a work with serious or topically charged subject matter comes with an added sense of responsibility.  When portraying any character regardless of the gravity of the piece, Ms. Sullivan has the skill to strike a balance between the light and the dark. “To me comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin.  Theater is a distillation of life, both the joy and pain of it.  When I have the opportunity to be on stage, the role I play becomes my favorite role.    I try to bring everything needed to a round out a performance, whether the material is serious or not.  I try to find the humor in tragedy.  Likewise, the underpinning of comedy is tragedy.”

Theater was able to prevail during the pandemic virtually and Ms. Sullivan was able to engage in some interesting projects during that time.  Now that live theater is back, some positive changes have been made to ensure the safety of artists and audience members.  “During the pandemic I was lucky to participate in a number of virtual play readings and   Zoom performances with Out of the Box Theater.  I also contributed poetry to Fallen Angel Theatre’s Alone Together video series.   It was wonderful to have those opportunities and I am grateful to the all the people who made them possible.  In April 2021, I was thrilled to take part in Drilling Co.’s Live Shakespeare in the Parking Lot’s “Bard’s Birthday Celebration”.  It felt so good to be outside “the (virtual) box”.As an audience member, I found it hard to tune in to virtual performances.  For sure, they were better than having nothing, but I suffered from excess screen-time exposure.  For me, theatre is larger than life, not reduced to a small computer screen or even smaller phone screen.Improved theater ventilation and less crowded spaces are a benefit from the pandemic years. I wish the pandemic was over.”

This talented artist has some exciting projects on the horizon including a play about a current hot button topic.  “I have been working (very slowly) on self-recording another solo piece about a woman on a beach.Pre-pandemic, I was lucky to join the cast of The 8th, a comedy, as part of Origin’s First Irish Festival 2019.  The play concerned the referendum in Ireland about repealing the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which protected the life of the unborn child over the life of the mother.  It seems quite relevant in the USA today.  Maybe it will get its promised Off-Broadway production?”

I also participated in readings of a play about the toxicity of gossip, which is also highly relevant today, when real news – and not propaganda, is so hard to come by.

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