BWW Interview: PARALLEL LIVES' Jenny Sullivan on Family, Directing & Contributing Happiness
Director Jenny Sullivan has made her birthright name her own; acting and directing since her early twenties. The daughter of actor Barry Sullivan, Jenny's latest project finds her directing Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy's comic piece PARALLEL LIVES at the Falcon Theater.
Thank you for taking time from your rehearsals to talk to BroadwayWorld and myself!
What initially brought you to directing PARALLEL LIVES?
Kathleen Marshall reached out to me to see if I would be interested in directing PARALLEL LIVES. It was not something on my radar, but I remembered loving The Kathy & Mo Show and I so love working at Garry Marshall's beautiful Falcon Theatre.
Will you give our BroadwayWorld readers a short summary of PARALLEL LIVES?
At the top of the play, the stage direction says 'the scene opens with two winged beings, looking down on an, as yet, unsullied earth. From there, we get on the ride with many outrageous, hilarious and identifiable characters that populate this earth. Two very funny and talented women play all the roles in this montage of scenes.
The play you wrote on your father's letters to your brother Johnny J FOR J premiered in October 2001 at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura. How has putting that particular script out to the theatrical world affected/changed your life?
Thank you for asking about J FOR J. J FOR J was - and still is - one of the most important things I've done. I hope to revisit as director in the not too distant future. The loss of John Ritter and then the loss of my brother, John, has slowed down this process, but I know from the reactions I got from the original production that it is a worthy project to pursue. It is a personal story, but the universal feeling of family profoundly resonates. I know I'm not done with this one.
Your directing resumé includes lots of Los Angeles theatre projects. How would you compare the state of LA theatre today to back when J FOR J first got on the boards?
Alive and well. Of course, doing theatre is always a financial struggle, but I think that now there are so many wonderful companies in town. It seems there is a larger and more diverse audience.
As the daughter of actor Barry Sullivan, do you remember which was the first movie or television show you saw your father in? Did you realize the person you were watching was your own father?
A first really big memory was my mom taking me to see Jeopardy in a movie theatre. We'd dropped my dad off to play tennis and we went to the movie. It was so scary for me, we had to leave and pick him up so I'd know he was okay. I'm not sure why that was the first intro, but to this day if I see it playing on TV, I have a hard time getting to the end without flipping channels. ;-) Spoiler alert....he's okay at the end of the film. Also, I think my favorite film of his is The Bad and The Beautiful. I was also introduced to the theatre by seeing him in THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL on Broadway. I know this definitely influenced all of my life choices.
Did you inherit the acting bug from your father?
I got the bug from my dad AND my mom!
When did you realize that you wanted to be a director?
Early 70's. I directed a new play in Ojai and found that I really, really loved the process and the opportunity to use my skills as an actor to relate to the cast. Then in the 80's, my best friend Catherine Coulson suggested I go for the AFI Directing Workshop for Women program. I'd been working on the mini-series V when I found out I was accepted. It was at that moment I realized how great it was to be creative every day without worrying about how the make-up artist would get rid of the bags under my eyes.
What was it like to direct your own father in the film The Next Best Thing?
Fantastic, funny (I didn't know what to call him), moving, and an utter privilege. I also got to direct my mom (Marie Brown) who had given up acting to raise my brother and me. She was a magnificent stage actress that went through the Yale program and six months later was on Broadway. I got her back on stage late in life when I directed her in THE SHADOW BOX and THE GIN GAME. My dad always said she was the really great actor in the family.
What aspects of directing theatre vs. those of directing film do you prefer?
Oh, it's been so long since I directed my two films, but I'd say the common thread that I like is the creation of a family. Film, of course, you get to keep the memory. But theatre has that magic of always being in the moment (even if we can't save those moments).
What aspects do you find a welcome challenge?
Answering questions like these.
You're funny, Jenny! What do you look for in choosing projects to direct?
I love the new. I love music. I love to find things to do with like-minded artists. I love the notion of contributing something to the planet that may be healing.
What emotion/feeling do you want the audience to leave with after PARALLEL LIVES' curtain call?
Thank you, Jenny! And break a leg on PARALLEL LIVES.
Peace and light, Gil.
PARALLEL LIVES plays @ The Falcon Theatre from August 17, 2016 thru September 18, 2016.
For schedule and tickets, log onto www.FalconTheatre.com