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How A New Theatre[502] Play Brings Back An Old Favorite

Zan Sawyer-Daily
Courtesy Theatre 502
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Zan Sawyer-Dailey is best known in the Louisville theater community as the longtime casting director and artistic manager at Actors Theatre of Louisville. She retired last year after 32 years at the organization.

Now, she’s returning to theater, but this time -- she'll be on the stage.

I spoke with Sawyer-Dailey about her new show, what it’s like returning to acting, and her status as a pioneer in Kentucky arts administration.

On what brought her back to acting:

"I wouldn’t say I’ve come back to acting [laughter], but I got a message from director Steve Moulds saying would I be interested in auditioning for this play, and I laughed and I thought, ‘Well, that made me laugh.’ I responded, ‘That’s really funny -- I would be interested in reading it.’ So he sent me a copy of the play and I really liked the play. I liked the tone of it, I liked the character I was going to get to audition for and I thought, ‘Well, how hard can it be?’

"It has been really hard! But I’m blessed to have two colleagues -- Leah Roberts and Cara Hicks -- who are very experienced actresses who are wonderful to be on stage with." 

On how her career in theater developed:

"In my teens I acted professionally in Chicago and had sort of thought that would be my future, but when I got into college, I began to realize that what I really enjoyed most was production management and over a long period of time I began to identify more as a producer type of person. When I got out of college, I thought that’s the direction I would take.

"But I went to New York, and interestingly enough, the work I got was in acting. I was travelling a lot, and this was during the period of time when the regional theater movement was really just coming along -- the early 70s and theaters like Actors Theatre were just building.

"So, I got in on that movement at a pretty early time, but what I saw when I looked around at the people I was privileged to work with was a quality and a lifestyle that I did not want to sustain. I wanted a more permanent home environment.

"At that time I learned about an emerging field called “arts administration.” This was in 1975 or ‘76 and literally there were only two universities offering advanced studies in arts administration. When I finished that program, I literally was one of a handful of women with that degree and it opened a lot of doors for me."

On her new show, ‘The Comparables,’ and her character Bette:

"So the play is set in a boutique, high-end, real estate agency run by a very successful woman who set out on her own and really broke some barriers and really led a way for women to have more opportunity. The play is very much about women and what they have to do to survive in what has traditionally considered a male-dominated business world.

"You know, the play begins with a quote by Madeleine Albright: ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’ And that’s what the play is about.

"I am the woman who has the boutique -- my name is ‘Bette’ -- I am described by my colleague who is my assistant as a ‘Wow.’ She is big, she is flamboyant, she’s a bit hysterical and she is still after all this time dealing with men who would like to get in her way.

"But into our office comes an upstart, beautiful young woman who really plays the male game very well. She gets what to do and so it’s all of us interacting with what are the best scenarios that we can practice in order to achieve our combined goals."

“The Comparables,” produced by Theatre [502], opens June 2. More information is available here.