Hello Bravura Fans!
Our Curtis is featured on the Wish Arts Artist Spotlight page. Read below to check it out!
Success doesn’t just appear out of thin air. It’s easy to look at another person’s career and think “How is this person doing so well in my field and I’m not?”, or “I could do that just as well as they can.” We can never pass judgment on another’s success because the fact is, we have no idea
how much hard work, dedication to craft, and sacrifice was poured into their endeavors. Behind the stunning and lavish presentation of a production or piece of artwork is a TON of preparation, thought, and carefully calculated Baby Steps!
Bass-Baritone, Curtis Sullivan is one such performer who has reaped the deserved rewards of the above mentioned formula. Having performed at such highly regarded centers as San Francisco
Opera, Opera Atelier, and Stratford Festival, you’ll love his ‘behind the scenes’ stories and motivation on how he’s fulfilled dream after dream, role after role. My favorite gem of his wisdom has to be, “Every day must be an investment in tomorrow because tomorrow may be the day when I am called to be all that I WISH to be.” Love it, Thank you, Curtis!
Founder, Artistic Director, NLP Artistic Coach
Baritone, CURTIS SULLIVAN
It’s clear to see that Curtis learned the secret of, ‘Plan your work and work your Plan’, at an early age. He was able to seize the amazing opportunities presented due to all the seeds of hard work he had planted along his journey. Thank you for sharing these stories of authenticity and pearls of wisdom that would touch and inspire any artist.
Wish Arts: Are you living the passionate life you envisioned for yourself?
Curtis Sullivan: Yes, I am. As a youth, I hoped that I would eventually live in a major urban centre, and perform in the musical arts for a living. I am doing precisely that. Having grown up on the shores of northern New Brunswick, I now live in Toronto and from productions like “The Merry Widow” at San Francisco Opera to “The Sound of Music” at The Stratford Festival, I continue to be challenged to build my skills, in both opera and musical theatre, to become better at what I do.
WA: What was your “big break”, your turning point that changed everything?
CS: It happened back in the winter of 1992. I had just graduated from Western’s Faculty of Music, as a voice major, (class of 1990) and was working full time in a paint & wallpaper store in London, (Clancy’s Rainbow) doing every little bit of local performing that I could get my hands on, (Orchestra London, Gerald Fagan Singers, London Community Players, church choirs, Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Listowel Concert Singers, etc) when, out of the blue, Dr. John Hess called me from the Banff Centre for the Arts. He had been given my name by a colleague, Carol Ann Feldstein, with whom I had performed Mozart’s Requiem, and she recommended me to Dr. Hess for a program that he was directing at The Banff Centre. He needed a baritone for the program and called me to see if I would be interested in auditioning. I have always tried to be a person who says “yes” to life’s opportunities and I was determined to make this the next building block of my career. I auditioned and was accepted into the program. It was a three month intensive period of study where we were challenged to integrate singing, acting, and movement. For most musical theatre performers, this is just another day at work but, for your typical classical/opera singer, circa early 1990’s, it was a unique and exciting challenge. I threw myself into the work and, while I was there, I called my wife, Chaz, and asked her to move us from London to Toronto, as I wanted to audition for the University of Toronto Opera school. My lovely wife packed our things, found us an apartment and moved us to Toronto. All by herself. When I finished my work at The Banff Centre, I was accepted into The U of T Opera School where, after two years, (92-94) I received a Diploma in Operatic Performance. Shortly after graduating, I acquired an agent and contracts with The Stratford Festival, Opera Atelier, Vancouver Opera, and was performing with symphonies in San Diego, Houston and Washington D.C. That call from Dr. John Hess changed my life!
WA: Where are you in your life right now, from your own perspective?
CS: That’s a good question. I am exactly where I need to be.
When my sons were born, I was singing and traveling with great gusto, without a thought to changing anything but, as most parents eventually discover, having children does change everything. Big surprise, right? In the year 2002, when my sons were ages 3 and 5, I came home after being away for about 10 months, and realized that I wasn’t being the kind of father that I had hoped I would be and made the decision to stay closer to home. That decision was strongly supported by my wife, my agents and the Co-Artistic Director of Opera Atelier, Marshall Pynkoski. As per my request, my agent stopped sending me out for auditions and, as I already had several shows with Opera Atelier under my belt, I became, more or less, a permanent member of the OA cast of performers.
In the spring of 2014, I traveled with Opera Atelier to Versailles, France where we performed the joyful return of Lully’s “Persee” to the stage of the Royal Opera House. It was during that contract that I realized I might be able to go back to traveling again. So, upon the completion of my 20th season with Opera Atelier, (1994-2014) I decided to retire from the company. Now my sons are aged 16 & 18 and, for the first time in a long time, I have accepted a long term contract away from home. I am back at The Stratford Festival, after a 20 year hiatus, (1995 season- Giuseppe Palmieri in “The Gondoliers”) and performing in “The Sound of Music” and “Carousel”. It’s great to be back at the Festival! I miss my children but I know that they are growing more independent and I am very excited to be, once again, pushing myself on to new frontiers. I have no idea what surprises the future may hold but, with faith and courage, I’m ready to find out.
WA: What are your rituals/routines that precede your performances?
CS: I used to be very methodical about what I did on a performance day. I would wake at a certain time, in relation to the curtain time, then carefully choose what to eat, and when to eat it. I would warm up in the afternoon and then again just before going to the theatre. I wouldn’t go out, meet with friends, or even exercise on a performance day. The list of dos and don’ts went on and on. Then, in the spring of 1997, two things happened. I was offered the lead role in the Canadian premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s tony award winning musical “Passion” at Canadian Stage and my first son was born. Suddenly, having to perform a very demanding role 8 times a week, while managing the daily demands of a new born child, I realized that I had been far too precious about what I “had” to do to be able to perform. I learned effective time management and that keeping a focused mind while at work, kept all of life’s other stresses at bay. I now feel liberated and more grounded. I feel like you can throw anything at me and I’ll be okay. I’ll show up, ready to go!
WA: What inspires you?
CS: What inspires me the most is the feeling of being challenged; the awareness that an opportunity may be difficult but it will bring about development and growth. That’s when I feel most fully alive. I must say, I also feel compelled to add the words that my dear friend, the late Rev. Bill Lamb once said to me, “Sometimes inspiration is irrelevant and you just have to do your work.”
WA: Do you ever experience the negative voice inside your head that says: “You can’t do that! Who do you think you are?” If so, how do you deal with this voice?
CS: Yes, I do. Not only often, but, sometimes, several times a day. The crazy thing about this business is, not only is that voice in my head, but sometimes I even hear it coming out of the mouths of people around me. Perhaps not so much in those exact words, but similar content with different phrasing. It’s a struggle to fight how others want to define you and constrain you. Some people just don’t want to see others succeed or they only envision your success being fulfilled through means which they value. Strange, I know, but, sadly true. Some feel the need to express their understanding of who they think you are and anything that might not fit into their concept of you, becomes uncomfortable for them. When I hear those limitations coming out of a person’s mouth, I leave the room.
Then there is my own impact on my self-image. We usually define ourselves early in life and as we work at improving and bettering ourselves, we may find ourselves confronting our old self- image. I find comfort in knowing, when I stand on the cusp of growth, the voice of criticism screams the loudest. How do I handle it? I plan my work and preparation, with the intent to succeed. When I was a student at Western, I owned and managed a College Pro Painters franchise. My General Manager, Brian Brown, pounded this mantra into my head until it became second nature, “Plan your work and work your plan.” It is possible to plan to fail. People do it all the time. It is better to succeed. Figuring out what you have to do to succeed, and doing it, is the greatest weapon against self-doubt. We define ourselves every day by the choices we make.
Whether it’s choosing between a salad or a cheese burger, practicing or watching another episode of “Game of Thrones”, our choices accumulate into a lifestyle and a self-image. As we make stronger choices, we strengthen our self esteem, our sense of dignity, and we generate a path to success.
WA: Is there a well known Canadian figure you look up to and who’s inspired you along your journey?
CS: Yes, the late Brian Macdonald had a huge impact on my life. He pursued perfection in the many art forms that inspired him and, as he did so, he celebrated Canada and the many Canadian artists that he met along the way.
WA: If you could give any advice to your past self, what would it be?
CS: I grew up being terribly fearful and full of self doubt. I thought that I was ugly and awkward but, thankfully, I loved to sing. Singing brought me joy and, to this day, I am happiest when I am singing. I can think of many things that I would want to tell my young self but, I wonder, would that change who I am today? Being the Trekkie that I am, I am paranoid of messing with the time-space continuum. If I were to travel back in time and find myself standing on a street corner next to my younger self, I might say something like “Dude, you don’t need to eat all of your Halloween candy. Brush your teeth twice a day and save that first issue of “Superman” that your dad gave you. It’ll be worth a small fortune in a few years” but that’s it. I’d let my life take it’s course and give thanks for the many blessings and people that have brought me to where I am today.
WA: Can you explain one of the happiest moments in your life?
CS: I think, as performers, we are gifted with an over-abundance of happy moments. From the eureka moment of “getting it right” in the practice studio, to the roar of applause on opening night, life spent working on your craft can be a parade of happy moments. Then there is the list of happy moments that come from being a father to two wonderful boys, and that’s truly endless, but imagine putting the two together.
My boys began studying piano and music theory with Vanessa Lee, and ballet in the Opera Atelier dance studio with Jeannette Zingg, when they each turned the age of 4 and, as a result of this discipline and skill, Opera Atelier would often invite them to be background performers in their productions. In 2006, Kevin Sullivan approached Opera Atelier with the idea of producing a film inspired by Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and in which Opera Atelier performers would play many of the roles. My boys and I were invited to be in the movie and we spent two weeks on set shooting the movie and playing in the back lots of the Sullivan Entertainment studios. That time with them was one of the happiest moments of my life and now, whenever I watch that movie, it takes me back to those joyful days spent working and playing with my two young sons.
WA: Do you experience “post-partum” creative blues after major accomplishments/ performances? If so, how do you nurture yourself through them?
CS: Yes, I do. I think that most of us do, though it does still, sometimes, surprise me. I nurture myself through these times by focusing on the tasks of the day and examining what I need to be working on to be ready for the next project, whether that’s learning new music, going to the gym or making pancakes for my boys. Life in the world of live performance doesn’t allow room for a lot of nostalgic indulgence. What we do is ephemeral and though we dearly treasure the people and experiences, we must keep moving forward. Training my mind, body and voice, requires daily attendance. If I dwell too much on what I did yesterday, I won’t have many fulfilling tomorrows. Every day must be an investment in tomorrow because tomorrow may be the day when I am called to be all that I wish to be.
CURTIS SULLIVAN, BIO
Curtis Sullivan was born and raised in New Brunswick and now lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons. His career has taken him across North America, Europe and Asia, performing in traditional operas, new works, baroque revivals, concerts and musicals, with companies such as Vancouver Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, San Francisco Opera, Calgary Opera, Opera Atelier, Opera Lyra Ottawa, Opera Columbus, Cleveland Opera, Apollo’s Fire, Tapestry New Opera Works, Vancouver New Music, Toronto Operetta Theatre, The National Arts Centre in Ottawa, San Diego Symphony, Houston Symphony, The National Symphony at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., The Royal Opera in Versailles, France, the Singapore Arts Festival, Bunkamura Hall in Tokyo, the Seoul Arts Center, The Glimmerglass Festival, Drayton Entertainment, Canadian Stage and The Stratford Festival. Curtis is also a founding member of Canada’s baritone trio “Bravura”.”