Free Press profile of 1st year MFA Actor Vanessa Sawson

Vanessa Sawson is student stand out in acting

You can find the original Detroit Free Press article here.


Though there are numerous talented actors in the current crop at the Hilberry Theatre, Wayne State University’s acclaimed graduate program, first-year student Vanessa Sawson stands out for taking on key roles in virtually all of this season’s productions.

Age: 30

Lives in: Ferndale. Born and raised in Royal Oak.

Years in theater: “Does dancing at 3 count? My first play was in second grade when I was 7. I haven’t stopped since.”

Education: Before joining the Hilberry, Sawson earned a bachelor’s degree in theater performance from Oakland University. She has had roles in productions at Ferndale’s Ringwald Theatre and on other small stages in metro Detroit.

First time onstage: “I was 7, and my (choreographer) mom asked me to be in the chorus of ‘Brigadoon’ at Stagecrafters. I sang and danced and fell in love with the whole experience, especially because my mom was there. I thought she was incredible and wanted to be just like her.”

Three recent roles: Clarence and others in “Richard III,” Curley’s wife in “Of Mice and Men,” Célimène in “The Misanthrope.”

Favorite role: “Curley’s wife. I felt like I knew her from the moment we did our read-through. She is someone so misunderstood, equally frustrating and beautiful. Very human.”

Favorite playwright: “Tennessee Williams. Mostly, I love his women: Blanche, Lady, Amanda, Alma … my list goes on. His works speak out loud to me when I read them. I think reading plays is very difficult. Plays are meant to be seen, but when I read Williams, I can see it all.”

On the joys and challenges of working as part of a rep troupe: “Getting to know your acting partners can be very beneficial. You learn a lot about yourself and how to work with such a close-knit group that sees each other a lot. Then sometimes it feels kind of like the movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ where the days seem to repeat. You say to yourself: ‘What show are we doing? Who am I today?’ ”

A time on the stage when things didn’t go as planned: “In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ in the last scene, Stanley has Blanche trapped, so she reaches for a beer bottle and breaks it against the wall to threaten him with the jagged edge of a glass bottle. One night when I broke the bottle, the whole thing shattered and all I had left was the paper label.”

Next up: Hilberry’s “The Cider House Rules Part I” (March 31-May 12) and “Part 2” (April 1-May 14).

Vanessa Sawson as Célimène and Andrew Papa as Alceste in "The Misanthrope" at the Hilberry Theatre, where she is a member of the company. Photo credit: Nikki Allen

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