What She Looks Like: Erica Sullivan, Actor

I was ecstatic to see a response from Erica Sullivan to my interview request. Erica and I attended grad school together, and seeing her work after having her first child was in part what encouraged me with my own hopes and pursuits. In a word, visibility. Her wisdom warning against rushing back to work out of a need to prove herself is laid out raw, and her decision to step away bravely is now encouraged by a supportive community.

As a mother of two, she also talks about her experiences jumping in right away after her first child then choosing to take a year off after her second. These options must be available to women to experiment with how they navigate the new relationships with their children and work. The artistry is always informed by the decision to take time away, not deprived.

This smart, strong, emotionally available artist is also a perceptive mother, and her honest interview below beautifully articulates the expansion of artistry and perspective on career that some women experience after having children, proving mothers are craftsmen deserving of the work. Her take on ” hang on tightly, let go lightly” in terms of the motherhood -work balance sings of achievability in its lack of end-gaining and focus on daily process. Her hope for the work also speaks to the empowerment for her daughters to see their mother in varied roles onstage:

“I look forward to my daughters seeing their mother portray women who are brave, damaged, vulnerable, cruel, intelligent, complicated, loving, ambitious and everything else in between.” – Erica Sullivan

You don’t want to miss her final thoughts on the exhausting, trying, rewarding, satisfying experiences on her journey of motherhood and theatre arts.

Read on.


67884325-Fingersmith_2_jg_1488
Erica Sullivan in Fingersmith at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Name: Erica Sullivan

Position: Actress

Status: Two daughters aged 11 1/2 months and 5


What surprised you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

That something else could take precedence over my work/art. I was so singularly minded when I graduated from Yale; singularly minded all of my young adult life on pursuing my dream of becoming a theatre artist and working actor. And what really surprised me was as soon as my heart and mind were filled with this new person and I found myself letting go a little of my work ambition, doors starting opening for me. It was like that statement Evan Yionoulis (a teacher at Yale) used to tell us, “hold on tightly, let go lightly”. I had held on so tightly for so many years, worked so relentlessly and prioritized my career above all else and then my daughter came into my life and I let go (not completely), but I let go of my death grip and lo and behold, opportunities began to arrive.

What excited you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

Sharing with my children the wonderful and wild theatre artists that I have the privilege of knowing and working with. They are passionate, worldly, intellectual, funny, diverse, compassionate and wholly and unapologetically themselves. What amazing role models! On a personal level, the depth of love, selflessness and sacrifice that having children has taught me has greatly informed my work. Having children has increased my compassion for other human beings exponentially and ultimately (I hope) allows me to delve deeper into the hardships and beauty of being human. That is exciting to me.

What challenged you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

In practical ways: the night hours are really difficult to manage as a mother of little ones. You don’t sleep enough as it is as a parent, but when you aren’t getting home until 11-12:30am, it makes it all the more difficult. The physical and emotional energy and presence that performance requires from you accompanied by the physical and emotional energy and presence that parenthood requires from you leaves very little room to recuperate and rest. The juggling of babysitters at such odd and inconsistent hours is challenging. Finding balance is difficult.

I really pushed myself with my first daughter. I went back to work 5 weeks after she was born because I was determined to prove to myself and the world that I could “have it all”, but it took a huge toll on my health and home life. I was fearful that the theatre world I had worked so hard to be a part of would forget me if I took time off; that I would disappear to them and would never work again so I pushed and pushed myself to the brink. And, interestingly enough, so many other female theatre artists who witnessed me doing this (I had a pretty good gameface) remarked that I was inspiring to them, that I was proving that a life of theatre and motherhood was possible. I wanted to tell them: “NO! Don’t do what I am doing, it is killing me!” But I didn’t and I regret that. Now, with my second daughter, I am taking a full year off to be at home. This is the right choice for me. I feel confident that when I return to theatre, the theatre will still have me (of course that confidence may be due to the fact that Oregon Shakespeare Festival has invested in me as an artist long term). Since I became a company member at OSF the challenges of pounding the pavement in New York, auditioning, working and traveling have eased considerably. I seem to have found a theatre haven: a small town life with exciting acting opportunities that offer long term contracts with a theatre that values and honors family and is politically and socially conscious. Wowza! Very grateful. Finding an artistic home base has been such a gift.

What are you looking forward to about having a child and working in the performing arts life?

I look forward to my daughters seeing their mother portray women who are brave, damaged, vulnerable, cruel, intelligent, complicated, loving, ambitious and everything else in between. I look forward to the kind of conversations with them that theatre elicits. I look forward to providing a model in which art and family can co-exist. That Mom can be an artist and a damn good Mom too! That you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other, that balance is possible.

What do you think people should know about having a child and working your performing arts life:

That it takes a village and theatre people are a pretty amazing villagers! That parenthood and art can be an incredible combination, the one teaching you about the other in unimaginable and inspiring ways. That it is indeed exhausting and incredibly challenging but in my humble opinion WORTH IT.

.


“I let go of my death grip and lo and behold, opportunities began to arrive.”

– Erica Sullivan, Actor

“Having children has increased my compassion for other human beings exponentially and ultimately (I hope) allows me to delve deeper into the hardships and beauty of being human. That is exciting to me.”

– Erica Sullivan, Actor

“I wanted to tell them: “NO! Don’t do what I am doing, it is killing me!” But I didn’t and I regret that. Now, with my second daughter, I am taking a full year off to be at home. This is the right choice for me. …I seem to have found a theatre haven: a small town life with exciting acting opportunities that offer long term contracts with a theatre that values and honors family and is politically and socially conscious.”

– Erica Sullivan, Actor


“I look forward to my daughters seeing their mother portray women who are brave, damaged, vulnerable, cruel, intelligent, complicated, loving, ambitious and everything else in between.”

– Erica Sullivan, Actor


What are your thoughts on this fierce mama’s trajectory? Let me know in the comments!

More profiles coming soon!

If you are or you know a performing artist professional and mom who wants to share thoughts, answer these questions and shoot them to me at this contact form!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s