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Interview: Katy Sullivan Makes Her Broadway Debut with Pulitzer Prize Winner COST OF LIVING at Manhattan Theatre Club

Cost of Living comes to Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club.

Cost of Living

Cost of Living had a long road to making its Broadway Debut on October 3rd. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to speak with Katy Sullivan, the actor who originated the role of Ani.

How's it going?

It's going great. I mean, I feel like we've gotten to that point where having an audience is just like oxygen you know. I'm just like, "Oh, thank God!" I think you get to a certain point where they're the fifth scene partner. The fifth character in the play is the audience and they bring energy and excitement into the space. You get bogged down with the minutiae of tech and lights and the stage revolving and all of that stuff. Then they kind of bring this burst of energy and so having an audience has been exhilarating.

Awesome. Yeah, you're opening soon.

We're in previews. We open on October 3. But I don't treat previews any differently than I would treat an opening night. You sort of have to go for the ride every night so it might as well be opening.

That's amazing. Is this the fourth or fifth time you've opened the show at a different theatre?

Yeah, this is five! So I did the original production in Williamstown, and then Off-Broadway. And then I did a production in Los Angeles, a production in London, and now this one on Broadway. Everyone has been slightly different and interesting. And, you know, I've also had five different pairs of eyes of my Edie to look into. That changes everything too, having a different scene partner.

You're a cast member who has been here from the beginning. In a way, Ani is your character.

I kind of feel like, yeah. I mean, Gregg Mozgala had also been in the original production. It's incredible to go from a workshop where you're discussing the character and the playwright Martyna Majok is writing new pages at night and she changes the script based on things you've discussed and you really get to a point where you're building and creating a character from page to life. Then to go on that ride from workshop all the way to Broadway, that's sort of the dream you know. For actors, I feel like Broadway is kind of like the Super Bowl.

This is your Broadway debut. How does this compare to your other acting accomplishments? Is this the big time or do you feel like you've done so much you're very well prepared for this by now?

I feel like I am prepared in terms of what I needed to do throughout my career to feel confident in my ability and my skill. So in that sense, I feel prepared but I feel like no matter what you do, you have to give 100% of yourself, especially in theater. I think at the end of the day actors just want to be acting. I've told this story in a theater in LA that housed 100 people and then this one seats almost 700. You know, just getting to expose people to an authentic portrayal of characters that live their lives similar to me. I feel like we're at a tipping point with representation for people with disabilities that we've never been before as a culture. And I think that to me is what's really exciting.

I have a friend, Nicole Zimmerer, who's a disabled playwright in the Houston Theatre Scene. She wanted to ask you about the growing disability rep on Broadway and how you feel about it.

I'm so stoked about how my community is starting to actually be seen and represented. That being said, individuals with disabilities are the largest minority in this country. Almost 25% of the population of people have invisible or visible disabilities. We're a huge population, and we're the least represented in the entertainment industry. So while there's one or two a season, that doesn't even come close to our representation in terms of proportion of the population. We're getting there but we're not there yet. You know, it takes time and it takes people. We need more writers telling stories from this authentic point of view where disability is not a manipulative plot point, or where we feel sorry for a character or something like that. We need more people writing stories where people with disabilities are individuals that live their life this way or are just going about their lives and then something happens.

So I think that's where we are, but I do feel like we're at a tipping point of inclusion. It's gonna get harder and harder for able-bodied people to sit down in a wheelchair and play a character without people kind of saying, "Hey, can we please tell our own stories?" I think if you look at any marginalized group and in entertainment or in Hollywood, like, at some point, you start making enough noise and saying, "We would like to represent ourselves if that's okay."

I feel like people have struggled to understand the idea of disability as identity. And that's something that we could use a lot more education on.

Absolutely. I don't speak for everyone, but I feel like it's a piece of who I am. But my goodness, it is so not the entirety of what I think about or deal with on a daily basis. Martyna Majok has written two characters as disabled and they are three-dimensional and they have flaws. And that's okay because I feel like as in my career I often have been polarized and I'm either playing a hero like a veteran, or some sort of inspirational or heroic. And on the flip side it's tragic where I've been in an accident, or I'm in a plane crash, or I've been crushed by a building and you know, I'm grateful for those jobs and those things are real and they happen and they are both tragic and inspiring, and that's wonderful. But there is a vast array of stories to be told that aren't those polar, it's not always tragic, and it's not always inspirational. You know, sometimes you're just going to the store to get milk and then something happens.

I think I feel like a lot of people in the theatre community know you as an actor. You are also a very accomplished athlete.

That is the totally random part of my life. I did not start running until I was 25. So I never ran before in my life until I was given a pair of you know, blades to put on and try. It was really a long time before I felt like I had the confidence to call myself an athlete because I didn't grow up doing any of that stuff. I was a kid who was born without legs. I wasn't on the track team. There was a period of time when there really wasn't a lot going on in terms of my acting career. So it felt safe to go down that path and see where it would lead. I have to say though, I approached athletics, like I would with a character. I would kind of approach it like "Okay, what do I think an athlete would do? Like how would an athlete act? I think an athlete would probably wake up at 4 am and go to the gym or I think an athlete would eat this apple instead of a bag of chips and I started to kind of piece together a character that could show up to the track and look and act confident even though I was scared to death. Because it's a performance. There are costumes and lights and characters and set pieces and it's all the same. Sports and acting are very similar. You have to show up and perform. I just went on the ride and ended up in the London 2012 Paralympic Games and represented the United States and set an American record and it was incredible. It was goosebumps stuff, you know, like it's incredibly humbling and you know, an honor to represent our country. If you told, 10-year-old Katie that she was going to it would make way more sense that she would be on Broadway, than she would be at the Olympics.

You didn't expect to be an American patriot.

Patriot maybe. But wearing that letterman jacket. I didn't ever anticipate that being a thing. But, you know, it's never too late. You just kind of you never really know where something is going to take you.

I feel like you kind of touched on something about theater training. It's just one of those things where you can apply it to just about everything in your life.

Absolutely. I think it is one of the most valuable things. It takes confidence to walk into a job interview, to walk into a cocktail party, or to feel like you can get yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you can kind of think to yourself "I'm gonna mentally create this character and I'm gonna go do this thing." You can use it in a zillion different ways.

How was the COVID experience for you?

I feel like it's really interesting to do this play in a post-COVID world because this play focuses so much on loneliness and isolation and I think everybody globally, we have a sense of that, that I don't think we did. before. I think people are coming to the theater with a different perspective than they used to, you know, but COVID was really crazy. My boyfriend and I were living together in New Jersey and we kind of saw the writing on the wall. I was shooting a TV show in LA when Italy shut its borders. I flew home. He does audiobook narration and we built a booth in one of our closets. I learned how to be a sound engineer on YouTube in about four days. We spent almost the entirety of 2020 doing audiobooks because there were only so many narrators that have boots in their homes. We were working constantly. There were times we were doing four books a month, which is a lot.

Then at the end of 2020, I booked my role on the new season of Dexter. So last year, I spent six months going back and forth from Boston shooting Dexter: New Blood. We were fortunate we had work.

Since you brought up Dexter, how was the experience filming Dexter: New Blood for you?

It was incredible to feel like part of a cast. You get to have a sense of community and camaraderie and then going to the premiere and being a part of that group was just so cool and so fun. My first day on set, I was so nervous. Of course, my scene was with Michael C Hall. Then it really became you know this cool community and I still text you know back and forth with a bunch of the cast members.

Can I ask what is it like working with Michael C Hall? Is he nice in person?

He is. It's so interesting because the tone of a set is really set by the director and the star. He was always praising the crew and thanking everybody and he really helped create a culture of calm and kindness.

Is the experience significantly different from working on a TV show versus working on a play?

It is really different.

In theatre, you get to have so much more. You get to luxuriate longer in time. Time to develop the character, time to talk about moments and ideas. In television, there's so much to do and every minute costs so much money. So, there's this constant pressure to get things right so that we can move on. But I find them fun in different ways. I kind of came up as an actor doing theater. It's always sort of my first love but I find it really fun on a television set or on a movie set like consistency to your performance and continuity. So like what line did I pick that pen?

Can I ask about the experience of being an actor out of Alabama? Did Broadway seem like a faraway place?

I always knew I wanted to be an actor, even before I understood what that meant. I made my parents take me to my first audition when I was 12. It's kind of crazy because I didn't have anything to point to. Now it's like, wow, this kid had no idea how hard this was going to be. But at the same time, you start breaking down barriers. I didn't realize until a few days ago I was the first female amputee to be on Broadway. That's incredible, but it's also staggering to think that we're in 2022, and no woman who is an amputee has ever been on Broadway before.

Do you have any advice for disabled actors and writers? Anything that you wish you would have known early on that might have helped you?

I wish I had the gumption to produce and create things on my own, not waiting for someone to give you permission to be creative because those are the times that we're gonna break through the noise. It's taken our community a long time to even get where we are, but we need more people writing our stories from a place of personal experience and then having actors who have some lived experience in that same direction. That's how movements happen and I know that it's happening slowly but be tenacious and don't give up. When I was 10, did I think it would take me as long as it did to be on Broadway? No, but I could have given up a long time ago and I didn't. So I think it's persistence. Just because someone says "no" once doesn't mean you throw in the towel. You have to stick with it and believe in what it is that you're trying to do to change the perception of our culture of people who live their lives in this place.

Cost of Living opens at Manhattan Theatre Club on October 3rd.

For tickets visit ManhattanTheatreClub.com

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COST OF LIVING Enters Final Two Weeks of Performances Photo
Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cost of Living is in its final two weeks of performances. Written by Martyna Majok (Sanctuary City, Ironbound) and directed by Obie Award winner Jo Bonney, the production will end its extended run at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Sunday, November 6.

COST OF LIVING Plays Final Broadway Performance Photo
Broadway says goodbye to The Cost of Living on November 6. Manhattan Theatre Club's Broadway premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, written by Martyna Majok and directed by Obie Award winner Jo Bonney, plays its final performance at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

MTCs COST OF LIVING Announces One Week Extension Photo
Manhattan Theatre Club has announced an extension of one additional week of performances for the Broadway premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cost of Living, written by Martyna Majok (Sanctuary City, Ironbound) and directed by Obie Award winner Jo Bonney, at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street).

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Manhattan Theatre Club is presenting the Broadway premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cost of Living at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Check out photos from opening night here!


From This Author - Christian Gill

Christian Gill - A native Houstonian and aspiring theatre maker, Christian Gill graduated from the University of Houston with a BFA in Playwriting and Dramaturgy. His theatrical pursuits led him to... (read more about this author)


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