The stage was set for TheatreUSF’s current production of Italian American Reconciliation. However, on Friday, the set doubled as a backdrop to a celebration of a life lived in full.One of the founders of TheatreUSF, Peter Blaisdell O’Sullivan, served as professor, director and actor for 38 years before retiring in June and passing away in August at age 70. During the memorial held in Theatre II, colleagues, students and family spoke to an audience of more than 200 about the man they all considered it an honor to know.
Megan O’Sullivan Weber, O’Sullivan’s daughter, said she owes him her confidence and desire to lead.
“When we were children, we would come to see the plays he directed at USF,” she said. “On opening night, he would proudly proclaim, ‘I don’t even have to show up, they (the cast and crew members) don’t need me anymore.'”
Weber said O’Sullivan was alive the most when he could see himself in a student’s eyes or hear the applause of an audience. Judging by the memories shared and applause received, O’Sullivan would have been very alive Friday.
Although a loved man, O’Sullivan was considered a frustrating man by his students and his children, who said they felt the brunt of his passion.
“He was a difficult man at times,” Weber said. “But I think all the great ones are.”
Kurt Smith, a senior majoring in theatre and one of O’Sullivan’s students, said O’Sullivan was an intelligent man and had a lot of history to share.
“Peter was the only professor that would hang out with students,” Smith said. “I enjoyed talking with him about the old days. He was similar to a grandparent or older uncle.”
Senior Jorge Zayas also said he enjoyed talking with O’Sullivan.
“Peter listened to me when I first entered the theatre department,” Zayas said. “He was one of the first people I spoke to. My father had just died and he let me talk about it with him. It felt good.”
While students such as Zayas said they enjoyed talking to O’Sullivan outside of the classroom, it was a different scenario when the relationship turned to professor and student.
“I hated the class,” Zayas said. “We thought he was tough, infuriating sometimes.”
Matt Logan, a recent graduate, agreed with Zayas, but understood the value of his former professor.
“(O’Sullivan) wasn’t an easy teacher,” Logan said. “He was definitely hard, but it was worth it. I remember everything he said. The knowledge he had was amazing.”
Patrick Finelli, a longtime colleague, said O’Sullivan was the authority on Greek theatre. Finelli, along with other professors, also gushed about O’Sullivan’s dedication to teaching.
“You knew he loved teaching,” Finelli said.
“If you walked by his class you could hear his booming voice.”
Finelli, as well as students, said he remembered conversations with his friend.
“Peter loved to chat,” Finelli added. “It didn’t take long for him after he would walk into my office and begin an animated conversation. When he would talk about topics that he liked, his eyes would light up.”
Most everyone who spoke about O’Sullivan said he was a very animated person. Finelli did an impression of O’Sullivan that sparked laughter from the memorial’s audience.
“I will miss him,” Finelli said. “I will miss the characteristically O’Sullivan chuckle through his teeth to prove a point.”
Fanni Green, assistant professor for theatre, said she will remember his laugh and large voice. Green, also a former student, told a story about her former professor and colleague’s attention to details and subtlety.
“He was directing a scene with a martini glass and I remember how he wanted the actors to work with the glass,” Green said.
“As a student I thought it was just a long, long waste of time. But now I realize what he was doing.”
Green, like many current students who were touched by O’Sullivan, said he gave her some great advice.
“Peter told me before I left for New York, ‘If you never make it as an actor, you would at least have the experience in New York, your degree and the guts to go there and make it, even if you failed,'” she said. “When I came back (as a professor), he stopped to say welcome back.”
Ronald Jones, dean for the College of Fine Arts, said O’Sullivan gave his soul, spirit and complete being everyday to aspiring theatre majors.
“The real loss is to the new generation of students,” Jones said.
“The college will never quite be the same without Peter.”