Sullivan stories

In a recent interview, former New American Theater (NAT) Founder and Director Jim Sullivan said his upcoming 12th Hometown Holiday show featured many stories.

Jim, I’ve known your family since we were kids—talk about stories!

I remember when Katie, Danny, Bob, Tom, Peggy and Jim Sullivan moved in down the alley that runs down the middle of the 900 block of Grant and North Court streets. All the kids on the block played in our back yards, and the alley was our thoroughfare. The front yards and the street were for adults and going to business, like Emory’s Grocery on Grant.

Their move into the huge green Victorian on Grant in the middle of the block was quite the event. The emptying of contents of the big moving truck and the size of the family were of immediate interest to my pal, Jimmy Saunders, who lived on Grant, and myself. I still live on Court.

The Sullivans were different from the start. They had more kids than anybody else. They played in their front yard. They even had boxing matches in their front yard! During one of my and Jimmy’s stroll-bys on their wide front sidewalks, we met Tom and Bob and were invited into their house.

Going up the staircase, we saw rooms full of bunk beds (I’d never seen so many bunk beds), books, toys, baseball bats and boxing gloves. Jim was older, and Katie was younger, and Peggy was nowhere to be seen, so Bob and Tom were our pals. Somehow, the boxing gloves became the focus of our elementary attention.

Down to the front yard we went. I thought I was pretty tough, and so did Jimmy, but we had never even seen boxing gloves. The Sullivans marked off a section of the front yard for the ring. After getting the gloves laced up, I was soon seeing and feeling Tom’s gloves repeatedly landing in my face, much to his and Bob’s amusement. I did better with Bob, but still got pounded. Deciding retreat was a better round, Jimmy went home, and Bob and I became friends.

Mrs. Sullivan was always very nice. However, she was less than pleased, putting it very mildly, when Bob and I built a campfire in the back yard. Our construction of the lean-to fire up against the wooden garage was technically perfect. So much so, the siding caught fire, but just a little bit, and we put it out! We stomped it out and used the garden hose, just like firemen. It didn’t even smoke that much, really.

Needless to say, we attracted the attention, not only of Mrs. Sullivan, but of Mr. Sullivan and my mother. Bob was grounded. I was grounded. We just didn’t see what all the drama was about.

I vaguely remember some shouting, something along the line of: “Boys! You could’ve burned down the garage! You could’ve burned yourselves, putting out that fire! Boys shouldn’t play with fire!”

Some things never change. As a business owner, I still put out many a fire, and some people still accuse me of starting them. Like their dad, who was a great theater critic for the daily paper, the Sullivan boys went into drama. All of us kids went to Boylan and were in the plays.

Jim, of course, began his career under the wing of Ted Bacino at Boylan, where he was a great friend of my classmate, Charlotte Powers. Charlotte’s Web was founded in memory of her by her brother, Steve.

In my office the other day, Jim said he can still remember me onstage at Boylan, doing one of the Spoon River Anthology monologues. Yikes—I can still remember some of that, which really tolls today, “Pro Patria. What do they mean, anyway.” Anyway, bad acting must be seen to direct good theater, and Jim Sullivan became an excellent director, as we knew he would.

His career from Boylan, to Beliot College, to the Web, to the limestones of the second NAT, to burning the mortgage at the new NAT, to his New York City base today, is a study in fine artistic management of risk and achievement.

Management runs in the family. Bob was second in command at the MetroCentre. He was very good for the community, and was very good to the RAMIs during our run at the MetroCentre. He now manages an arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

One heck of a chef, Tom lives in Durand and is the food operations manager at Beloit Hospital.

I can remember many a great night with Peggy and Katie at the old Irish Rose, especially during the Guinness Quote Competition. Katie is at Didier Greenhouse, and Peggy is working with Jim and Danny (Mr. Professional Actor in Chicago) on the Hometown Holiday production.

Go see the show. Bring your family. Listen to and tell some stories. I’m sure you’ll see some of the Sullivans there. They’re quite a family. Share your memories. Just don’t box or start any fires with those Sullivan boys; they know how to laugh. You might even ask Danny about the garage on Oxford Street.

From the Dec. 7-13, 2005, issue

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