The following are excerpts from a commencement address made by LITC Artistic Director, Ian Sullivan, to performing arts graduates of his alma mater, Holy Trinity School.
Thanks to Mrs. Murphy and the theatre department for inviting me to join you today. Thanks to Mr. Fennell and the administration for welcoming me back. Also, thank you, Mr. Fennell, for not writing me up for having this beard. I appreciate that. When I went to school here, Mr. Fennell was the Dean of Discipline. One time he stopped me in the hallway.
“Sullivan...” he said. I froze. “Your top button’s unbuttoned. I’m not going to give you detention, though.” I was relieved. “I have to give you detention for the stubble on your face, though... I was going to let you get away with one.” Mr. Fennell: tough but fair.
My favorite Mr. Fennell moment happened during my Honor Society induction ceremony. A young girl’s hair accidentally caught on fire from the candles. I do not say this to make light of the situation; it was a scary moment. You could hear the air get sucked out of the room like a vacuum. While everyone else stood in shock and confusion, Mr. Fennell leapt into action. In an instant, he bounded off the stage, took off his jacket, covered the girl, and escorted her safely from the theater. It was heroic.
This is our job, as artists: to keep stories alive by sharing them with others. Maybe it’s a story form our own life. Maybe it’s a madcap murder mystery musical like Curtains. Maybe it’s a four-hundred-year-old Shakespeare play. Whatever the tale, it is our responsibility to tell it. Because stories bind us together. The metaphors within make our own struggles more clear. It is also our job to elucidate these metaphors. In Mr. Fennell’s case, I see a man, on a stage, called to action, who performs in a brilliant and powerful way. The metaphor is that all of you have been called in the exact manner.
Will you answer the call? Will you be ready when destiny howls at your soul?
It will not be easy. You will sacrifice many things along the way. You will miss friends' weddings and loved ones funerals. You will spend many sunny days locked in the theatre. You will put thousands of miles on your body before you are thirty. But for us, there is no other choice. This is our vocation, and to deny that is to make a terrible mistake—one that you will run from for the rest of your life.
I don't want you to think of this as advice. Everyone’s path is completely unique, and you will learn to traverse yours through time. Instead, this is your official call to arms: to be the most awake, open artist you can possibly be, each and every day, with each and every person you interact with. You don’t need to be on stage to give that gift to others, to be present with people, to breathe them in, to say ‘yes, and' to life. This is a call to arms, like Henry V on the battlements: 'This story shall the good man teach his son, and this day shall ne’er go by, from now, til the ending of the world, but we, in it, shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.' This is the greatest thing we can do with our lives: to tell stories that help others... and to be remembered for telling them.
There will always be someone better than you, someone who has been doing it longer or knows more people than you, someone who has the role you want. When I was a Senior, my best friend was cast as Hamlet. Of course, I struggled with the fact that he got to play one of the greatest characters of all time, and I didn’t. And so I chased Hamlet for years, read the play over and over again through my darkest days in college, worked on the speeches with an old mentor after I graduated and finally, when I was 25, I was cast as Hamlet in a professional touring production at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. One day, Tommy came to Philly to see it. It was a dream come true. But the only reason I finally got to tell the story which I had yearned to share for so long was that I never gave up. I chased after it with dogged determination and, after years, the universe provided. This is the one thing that no one can ever take from you: your passion. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, or what you look like. If you work harder than you ever thought possible, you can achieve powerful and beautiful things.
I was here last Saturday for the final performance of Curtains. I was impressed by the talented cast, laughed at the hilarious bits, and was actually moved to tears by the ovation and outpouring of support at the end. You deserved it. You told a story that made us laugh and think, and we appreciated it. I hope you take that memory with you, and draw upon it for inspiration in the years to come. And maybe—hopefully—one day, we can tell some stories together. Toward the end of Curtains, the detective quotes The Tempest, and I will close by echoing those sentiments.
What’s past is prologue. These our actors, as I have foretold, were all spirits and have melted into air, into thin air. We are such stuff that dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded in a sleep. My staff is broken, my charms all o’erthrown and so I’ll drown my books. Now I want spirits to enforce, art to enchant.
What do you want from your life? Tell me a story, and let’s find out together. Thanks again for having me, and congratulations to you all.