A lady in retirement

DJ Sullivan, performer and educator, enters a new phase.

DJ Sullivan
  • DJ Sullivan

“You know what’s great about acting?” asks D.J. Sullivan. “You can do it from birth to death and never skip a beat.

“Okay, I’m skipping a beat and headed into retirement — and I can’t wait.

Sullivan has taught acting in San Diego since 1960. That’s 55 years, and rarely a season goes by when at least one former student isn’t nominated for a Craig Noel Award. She has been on a stage or a screen for 67 years. She was a national board member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for 30 years, and 20 with the American Federation of Radio and TV Writers (AFTRA). As of last Monday night, February 2, it’s official. She stepped down.

“I want to read the stack of books and plays by my bedside, enjoy working in my garden, travel to my beloved redwoods. Well, you get it, retire.”

Well, sort of.

Since 1977, she has taught the D.J. Sullivan Workshop, which she didn’t start. In those days there were no local workshops. Actors had to drive to LA. When agents learned of Sullivan’s success teaching Junior Theatre, they made a decision. Without her knowing it, they announced that she would teach a San Diego workshop. “Came as news to me.” As did her surprise when 30 students turned up for the first class.

'night, Mother

Her daughter Renee will take over the workshop, “which I’m thrilled about.” Now Sullivan can see “even more plays, like 'night, Mother, which I loved last week at Ion” (she also loved that cast member Yolanda Franklin’s a former student).

She recently finished her book, Subtext Made Simple — on Amazon later this month and in book form as well (“for those who never have tried subtext in their acting, give it a go!”).

Now that she has the time she should write her memoirs. She has a story about practically everyone in the business: taking notes for a young, hyper-nervous Robin Williams at the Comedy Store; Annette Benning’s stage fright in a Junior Theatre class; telling George Clooney to cut his hair and get serious about acting (during filming of Return of the Killer Tomatoes); Jane Fonda sleeping on her couch; and her decades-long relationship with casting guru Michael Shurtleff, author of Audition.

In the future, Sullivan will work on selected projects and counsel students. She will continue to remind them that: “Acting is not a way of life. It is a way to life. My belief is that all actors should know all the tools that are out there. Use what works for you and discard the rest. Find your own way and never ever stop growing, watching, and listening to the other actors on the stage.

“May the passion be with you. It’s been with me since birth, and I still love it!”

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