jakub | January 28, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | People to Watch: Katy Sullivan & Greta Oglesby

Katy Sullivan

A seasoned actor and Paralympic record holder, she’ll next appear in the title role of Richard III at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

First theatrical memory? In elementary school, we went to see a children’s theatre production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was magical from top to bottom. I just remember wishing there was a way to be a part of a play, and then realized that the little girl playing Violet was a kid I knew from school. I was like, “Wait, if she can do this, why can’t I?”

Last memorable theatrical experience? I saw the production of The Nacirema Society at the Goodman Theatre and had a blast. It was a packed house full of people ready to laugh and have a great time. It reminded me why we go to see great theatre: for community, to go on a journey guided by incredible craftspeople, and to be changed in some way.

What are you reading? Lots of prep materials for Richard at the moment, focusing on where he came from. So the Henry VIs, and I recently finished The Year of The King, which is one actor’s journey to portraying Richard.

What music are you listening to? My taste is all over the map. One day I’m on an ABBA kick and the next it’s Beyoncé or Taylor Swift. But currently, lots of classical music as I run lines for Richard.

Katy Sullivan in a publicity shot for “Richard III” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. (Photo by Jeff Sciortino)

Last show you binge-watched? Season 2 of The Bear! It’s such a wonderfully acted show with a huge amount of heart. It really just sucks you in, and three hours later you realize that you’re almost done with the whole season, and you wanna slow down so that it will last longer. Chef’s kiss!

Where is home to you? We just bought a house outside of Chicago! My husband and I are both actors, and we’ve called both L.A. and NYC home at different times, but family obligations called him back here, so we’ve set up camp in an adorable place. I’m back and forth to New York very, very often for work, but my bed and puppy are in Chicago.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? Stick with it. Don’t give up. It might not seem like people are gonna “get you” at times, and sometimes they won’t, but you’ll find your way if you do the work. Always trust your foundation. And stay humble.

If you didn’t work in theatre, what would you be doing? It would have to be something creative. I was a makeup artist on the side for a little while, and I loved making people feel more confident and beautiful.

Favorite place you’ve visited? I love London so very much. I’ve had two longer stretches in that city. Once was at the 2012 Paralympic Games, where I represented the United States in track, and the other was onstage in Cost of Living. It’s just such a beautiful city with a deeply rich history, and I can’t wait to have a reason to work there again.

It’s not theatre unless… There’s an audience. We can’t do what we do without the last piece of the puzzle, and that’s people, laughing together, crying together, being together. That’s theatre.

Greta Oglesby

A Twin Cities mainstay with weighty credits in classics and musicals, she’ll next star at History Theatre in Handprints, a solo play based on her published memoir.

First theatrical memory? In ’92 or ’93, I was an accountant for the city of Chicago, and on a break, I was flipping through the Chicago Sun-Times and ran across a little audition notice looking for women who could sing gospel for this little musical called Mens. The theatre was super close to my house, and I had never been there—had never even heard of it. But I sing gospel, and I thought, let’s just see what it’s about. I ended up getting it, and Lord have mercy, I just immediately fell in love with theatre. I couldn’t stop doing it. I was miserable when I didn’t do it.

Last memorable theatrical experience? I happened to be in this production by Ten Thousand Things Theater Company, a play called Emilia, about this poet and playwright back in Shakespeare’s time; it was said that she was supposed to be his lover, and they had a child or two together. Sometimes when I’m in stuff that’s really life-changing, I want to buy a ticket to see it myself. This was one of those—a powerful piece of theatre I will probably never forget.

What music are you listening to? My daughter is a producer for Minnesota Classical Public Radio, and she takes over for the host if he’s unable to do it. It’s so amazing to turn on my radio and hear my daughter’s voice, doing this nationally syndicated program. So I’m super into classical music right now.

What’s the last show you binge-watched? The Fall of the House of Usher. I just put everything down the minute I watched the very first one, and it was just me in jams all day. That was absolutely riveting.

Greta Oglesby in “Handprints,” based on her memoir, “Mama ‘n ‘Nem, Handprints on My Life,” at the History Theatre.

Where is home to you? The Twin Cities. I’m from Chicago, but we’ve lived here for 23 years now. They say that people who are transplants from someplace else, once you get here, you never leave. And I see why.

What teacher or mentor has shaped your theatre journey the most? I’m gonna have to say Marcela Lorca. She was the movement director on The Winter’s Tale at Oregon Shakes. I fell in love with her then and she’s kind of been mentoring me ever since. She also directed me in Caroline, or Change, which was extraordinary, and in Emilia.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When I was younger, I was fascinated with numbers, so I went away to college, I got my finance degree, then looked for a job in accounting, and I never looked outside of that. But when I stumbled into theatre, I found myself.

If you didn’t work in the theatre, what would you be doing? Interior design. I designed my daughter’s house when she bought it, and my son’s two apartments. That is another one of my passions.

It’s not theatre unless… Unless everybody gets to see it, not just the people who can pay for it. I like when theatres do pay-what-you-can nights. A lot of people can’t afford $100 tickets.

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