As we get ready to celebrate over two decades of the Haas Award at our Haas Happy Hour on February 27, we’re sharing reflections from past recipients in this series.
Catharine Slusar received the Haas Award in 2001, six years after arriving in Philadelphia. At that time she was an actor, but she’s now an actor, director, and professor of theater at Bryn Mawr College.
Here’s how Catharine recalls those Barrymore Awards in 2001, when she had just become a mom to twins: “The reading of my name was accompanied by the giant sound of air fleeing the room. I was thrown off the space-time continuum where I free-floated in slow motion to the stage, bizarrely located in the auditorium of the Independence Seaport Museum, and my first thought was about my strapless dress which was in danger of falling off. My two-month old twins, whom I was breast feeding, were at home and the ceremony had been long. I hadn’t thought to bring a breast pump and my breasts were bursting. I know I made some kind of a joke about my state of vavoom. It was interesting being so completely unmoored by the news and simultaneously planted on the earth by this mammalian primal purpose. I was an artist and a mom. And I had enough milk for the whole auditorium.”
On working and living in our city, Catharine continues: “Philadelphia is the dream of a large ensemble of artists who know each other, and know each other’s work. The gift of ensemble work is that we don’t have to start from zero each time we assemble for a new project. I have also found that Philadelphia is a rare community where artists can buy home homes, have families, and support themselves through their art.”
The Haas Award did not keep me in Philly—Philly kept me in Philly. But the award is part of Philly. The phenomenon of Carole Haas Gravagno, and her extraordinary generosity to artists, is part of the Philadelphia story. Carole has inspired generosity across the city, as she recognizes and cares for and about theater. This is a town that nourishes artists.
As for other support that helps make Philadelphia Catharine’s home: My biggest support has been from my extraordinary husband, Whit MacLaughlin. He is a director of rare talent and creativity. He is the smartest person I know. He is my editor-in-chief (and does our taxes!). And he is a great dad to our daughters. Other support has been from this community of artists and my theatrical homes here, primarily Theatre Exile, The Arden, and Bryn Mawr College. Bryn Mawr has allowed me to expand my vision and work because I am called on to direct and define my voice as a creative artist. The beauty of a life in the theater is that one is always a student, always learning, and always beginning again. Philadelphia allows artists room to live and learn and grow. This city is so fortunate to have world-class artists drawn here.” As for today’s emerging artists that inspire Catharine, she sights “artists like Scott Shepherd, Mary Tuomanen, Jenn Kidwell, Kevin Meehan, Adrienne Mackey, Emilie Krause, Amy Frear and Susanne Collins. It is possible in Philly to be everything artists, multi-hyphenate artists, or slash –ridden artists, and our younger artists are leading the way: Actor/director/writer/creator/singer/songwriter/filmmaker.
And they keep coming! More and more makers and artists. They are drawn here by the schools, perhaps, but stay because of Philadelphia’s evident commitment to its artists. Because it is possible to work here across genre: you can be part of a kickass ensemble like New Paradise, make your own work on the side, and do regional theater in between. You can have a life here.”