Life Song

by Michael Eddy
Ann Sachs with Roger Morgan
Ann Sachs with Roger Morgan

"A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou

Actor, businesswoman, and writer Ann Sachs talks about her song

Ann Sachs started her theatrical career as an actress, and she was successful at that role in her life—she worked on Broadway, most notably co-starring with Frank Langella in Dracula. Along her journey as an actress, she fostered a love for new works, she performed in a wide range of regional theatres, and she met her future—in the person of lighting designer Roger Morgan.
At the same time that she was exploring leaving acting for something more in her theatrical career, Morgan asked her to steer the business end of his theatre consulting firm, which over time became the esteemed Sachs Morgan Studios. After years of successfully creating roles in theatre and then creating theatres themselves, Sachs now focuses her time on writing and working on her philosophy of Theatrical Intelligence. I had the great pleasure of speaking with the dynamic and engaging Sachs about her theatrical path that has had, and continues to have, many destinations.

Stage Directions:  After you attended Carnegie Mellon, did you start your acting career in New York?

Ann Sachs: No, I didn’t. I actually went to, what they called then, the TCG auditions. The Theatre Communications Group hosted auditions for all the resident theatres, off-Broadway companies, whoever is there as a TCG member looking for talent. I got 37 offers; it was really amazing. I even kept the sheet of paper with all the offers. I chose to go to Trinity Repertory Company, in Providence, RI. It was fabulous, I got to play all the young leading ingénue roles. I also met Roger there. At the end of the season, Trinity was invited into the ANTA (American National Theatre Academy) Matinee Series which was in NY at the ANTA Theatre on 52nd street [it was renamed the Virginia Theatre and more recently the August Wilson]. Later Roger and I had our studio/offices in two floors in the Virginia, so when you look back and you think, of course it was like going from A to B to C! Anyway, regional companies were invited to do a production there for a week or two, Trinity did the ANTA Series, so that was my first show in NY.

You did work on Broadway, I know, but I also know you love new emerging works and did a lot of them. What were some of the more rewarding productions to be part of for you as an actress?

Well you know, there were so many that were so rewarding. There are two that come to mind. The first one I think of, it was actually during the play when Roger and I fell in love (Morgan would later become her husband as well as business partner.) The play itself though was a gorgeous play done with Trinity, a play by William Goyen named House of Breath. It was the story of a family in the south dealing with all those family issues and Adrian Hall directed it. That was part of the reason that it was truly so rewarding, working with Adrian. He was 40-years ahead of his time. He directed it with a completely non-traditional cast. One performance an elderly white woman would do the role, the next performance it was played by a young black man. It just made you kind of wake up and look at things from a different perspective. I just loved that show.

1969 Trinity House of Breath William Smith   

The other production, really productions, that come to mind are a couple of Wendy Wasserstein’s first plays at Playwrights Horizons. This was when Rob Moss had first started it and it was on Broadway in, I think it was a YMCA building. These plays were just amazing. Her first one, which was called Any Woman Can’t was about a young woman who was struggling through relationships in college; Wendy and I just became fast friends during that. The next one was called Uncommon Women. There were others I couldn’t do later on with her because I was doing Dracula on Broadway. I couldn’t get out of my contract, I was completely locked in for a year. Anyway, those shows with Wendy were amazing because I really felt that Wendy found a voice for those of us who hadn’t had anybody listening to our voices. She was able to write in such an authentic manner.

Playing Lucy in Dracula on Broadway with Frank Langella.

You worked in a wide range of regional theatre spaces, talk a little bit about how your experience on stage informed your work later at Sachs Morgan Studio as a theatre consultant.

It was interesting because I got to the point as an actress when I just didn’t want to act anymore. I had sort of out grown it, I think. I wanted something that was bigger. I guess I would explain it as instead of working in a piece I wanted to work on a piece of theatre and it was confusing at first. I began to write. I began to write some stuff for the first time ever and I thought well this will be interesting. Then, just as I was doing that, still doing an occasional role here and there, because I knew that I was going to leave acting but I didn’t know where I was going yet. Roger said ‘listen, I need help. I need you to come and help me because I can’t handle this studio business stuff all by myself.’ He is a brilliant designer, but he doesn’t like to think of it as a business. He really needed help, so, I thought well, somebody has to do something. I told him I would commit to doing it for a year. Handle the financial things and get things organized for him. Once I got there though, I realized it was as if I was born to do what I was doing. I loved just looking at the whole picture. It was interesting because in terms of running the studio, the kinds of theatres that we worked on whether it was an arena, a thrust, an old fashion proscenium, or an off-Broadway black box, I saw at the studio how it was so much more that went into the design of the spaces. I saw it was this whole picture. At first I said, ‘I don’t know anything about this work.’ But Roger said, ‘You know about standing on those stages, working in the spaces.’ It came together and my work as an actress did let me see the studio’s work in a bigger way.

1988 Ensemble Studio Theatre

How did your experiences first as an actress and then as a prominent business woman in the industry lead to your philosophy of Theatrical Intelligence?

I think that having been an actress and then having made the transition to the studio and seeing the bigger picture, realizing that I had the knowledge to do what was required in the studio because of having worked in the collaborations that is theatre, I just fell in love with the theatre all over again. I saw each role in theatre, I saw how that can apply in business. It was working in the studio where I probably started formulating the idea of theatrical intelligence before I knew I was; before I knew what it was and, certainly, what it was called.

The first time I actually gave the idea the name Theatrical Intelligence was when I was at this retreat with a group of women business owners from the WPO (Women Presidents’ Organization). It was in those conversations about what we had done, and the realities of our experiences, that I really started to talk about this whole idea of theatrical roles, and how understanding those roles allows us, in theatre to collaborate successfully. I started to think about how theatrical intelligence can work in business.

Over time, I’ve now divided the theatrical roles into the eight roles of theatrical intelligence. Each role is so beautifully defined. It’s how we all collaborate so well, because everybody knows what everybody else does. That is so rare in a profession. I looked at that theatrical production model and that became Theatrical Intelligence. It is a system that identifies and captures your unique area of talent in order to bring it into your work and your workplace; it can re-define the way we engage in our work. The system consists of eight roles, which are the professionals required for a commercial, theatrical production, the six principles are shared by every person working on the production. They include the idea that everyone shares the same goal; everyone shares an equivalent risk; collaboration rules; the work matters; failure is your friend; success requires the courage to step into the unknown. Then the eight phases identify the role that “takes the lead” in each of the phases, supported by other roles as required. The remaining roles fade into the background, active if necessary, according to the phase of production.

The tenets of theatrical collaboration.

Exactly. I have been working on a book about it. I have spoken about it and am continuing to explore it all.

You have had an incredible wealth of experiences throughout your career, but a bit of your resume, that I love, which people may not know is that you were the voice of Princess Leia in the Star Wars series on NPR. How does it feels to be a part of such a cultural icon?

It’s so funny that you asked me about that, because just two days ago, I was contacted by a fellow who was a Star Wars radio series fan. He is blind and he first heard the Star Wars series when he was seven years old. He said to me, ‘Listening to the series provided my imagination. It released my imagination. And it was all through the sound.’ And then he said ‘when he heard my voice, that was what Princess Leia was to him.’ It was amazing, to touch someone that way with your work. I told him, ‘I honestly, I don’t think I have ever gotten a better compliment, or review in my life.’  SD

Each role is so beautifully defined. It’s how we all collaborate so well, because everybody knows what everybody else does. That is so rare in a profession."