Katy Sullivan: Broadway’s First Amputee Actress

When we asked Katy Sullivan how it felt to be just the second amputee (and first amputee woman) ever cast in a Broadway show, she wasn’t sure how to answer. She didn’t realize she held that honor.

But Sullivan is keenly aware of what an honor it’s been to perform as Ani, one of the main characters in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cost of Living. An intimate portrait of two people with disabilities and their caregivers, the show drew packed houses and stellar reviews during its 2017 off-Broadway run. Unfortunately, a planned Broadway production got tabled for months because of the pandemic. The Manhattan Theatre Club reactivated the project this year, and when it debuts on October 3 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Sullivan will be back in her wheelchair as profane, irascible Ani. 

“She’s not necessarily the most likable person,” laughs Sullivan. “She’s been hurt. She’s overcoming this disability that’s been sort of thrust upon her, she’s trying to manage her relationship with her ex-husband, and it’s a complicated story. It’s not just about disability.” Cost of Living previews begin September 13. For ticket information, visit manhattantheatre club.com.

So here’s the deal: Before you, the only amputee who ever performed on Broadway was David Connolly, who had a part in Shenandoah in 1987. That’s 35 years ago.
Interesting. I do think one of the cool things about Cost of Living is that we don’t always see disabled bodies on stage, and we don’t usually have them portrayed in such an authentic way. That’s one of the reasons why this play is so powerful, and people walk away from it really moved and inspired. It doesn’t happen every day that you see a performer with a disability on stage, especially on Broadway. It shouldn’t be this novel thing, but it is. I’m excited to be part of the progress. 

Greg [Mozgala, her co-star] and I have been with this project since it was a workshop. So to go from sitting around a table and discussing the characters in the scene, and having the writer change things around and come back the next day—to get from the point where you’re creating a character from scratch to having it go to Broadway, that’s the dream. That’s the dream for any actor, able-bodied or disabled.

Five or six years have passed since you created that role. And they’ve been intense, traumatic years. Do you think those experiences will inform the way you play Ani in 2022?
You can’t help but have a character evolve with you as a person. I have changed as a person since 2016 or 2017. We’ve all had massive changes happen with COVID, and life has totally changed. So I think Ani can’t help but be slightly different than she has been in the past.

She’ll also change based on whose eyes I’m looking into. I have a new [actor playing my] husband in this production, so that’s going to change everything. It can’t help but change everything. It’s a different person who has different intentions and a different way of saying lines and doing blocking. He’s going to make it his own, which will ultimately change my performance. And that’s good. It’s going to breathe some fresh air into this character. 

And then there’s just the level of gratitude I have to be back in the theater. I’m going to show up every single day, so excited to have audiences in the seats. Broadway shut down for a year and a half, and I haven’t done a play in three years. That’s a long stretch of time to be away from something you love so much.

Is live performance more rewarding to you than screen acting?
Here’s the difference. With a television show, you have no control over your performance. You do five or six takes, or whatever you need to get the scene, and then you just have to let it go. You have no control over how they edit it or how you’re portrayed in any way. But theater is one of those things where you get out there and you’re on the roller coaster from beginning to end. You get to own your performance in a way that I think only exists in theater.

Does the Broadway mystique bring up any anxieties or fears?
Not at all. I’m just really excited. I saw my first Broadway show when I was 17, and I stood outside the theater in tears afterwards. This was on a school trip, and my teacher was like, “Oh my gosh, what’s wrong?” And I told her, “I just want to do what those people are doing.” From the time I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was to be an actor and to be a performer. So my goal heading into this show is to be present and not let a moment of it slip by without acknowledging where I’ve come from, how far I’ve come, and how hard I’ve worked to get to this place. I just want to show up, be present, do my job, and be excited and thankful to do it every day.

Theater is such an incredible thing to be involved in. It teaches you to get out of your comfort zone, to rely on other people, to pull up your sleeves and really do some hard work. It can be so fulfilling, and whether or not you end up on Broadway, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s awesome.

More Amplitude articles about Katy Sullivan

Katy Sullivan: Acclaimed Actor, Accidental Athlete

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