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About Mary Pat Sutherland


The following is exerpt from the program for “A Celebration of Life: Mary Pat Sutherland,”a memorial service held at the Eisenhower High School Auditorium, January, 1991.

Mary Pat was born and raised in Sheboygan, WI. Her love of the performing arts may have had its beginning with her mother, who was a Radio City Rockette, in New York. Mary Pat’s zest for the theater began in earnest when she enrolled at Mount Mary College in 1965 as a drama major.

Because of her youthful looks, she was cast in the leads of several major children’s productions. Upon graduation in 1969, Mary Pat was hired as an English and Drama teacher at Eisenhower High School in New Berlin, WI.

It was during her first year of teaching that she met and stared dating her future husband, Rick, who was teaching at New Berlin West High School.

In 1976, Mary Pat entered her first One-Act Play contest, a statewide high school drama competition.

She entered thirteen more times after that during the past twenty years. On nine of those occasions, she and her casts advanced through the three levels of competition and earned the honor of performing at the state finals.

Four times, Mary Pat was honored with the outstanding director award, most recently in 1986. Numerous students under her direction received outstanding actor awards.

In 1979, Mary Pat started a new venture – the student/faculty play. This unique idea combined the acting talents of students and staff in the same show. This activity proved to be a very enjoyable experience for all involved – student, staff, and audience (see image below from the 1979 student/faculty production 'Curious Savage'.  

Despite her directing talents, the yearn to perform was asking for a chance to show itself again.

In 1979 Mary Pat began her stage career in community theatre with the Waukesha Civic Theater, branching out to the Village Players in Mukwonago, 1985.

Mary Pat’s roles ranged from Goldie Hawn’s part in Butterflies Are Free to Tony Randall’s role in the female version of The Odd Couple.

Fond Memories from Patti Punzi

Mary Pat Sutherland was my high school drama teacher. Even though I had some experience on stage as a young dancer and doing a bit of theater in elementary and middle school, my passion for theater grew exponentially when I reached high school. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high, when she was both my drama teacher and English teacher that I had enough courage to audition for a play. I knew I was up against tough competition, especially with all of the juniors and seniors auditioning, but I did the best I could. On the day the cast list was posted, there was my name as a supporting role in the play.

I couldn’t believe it. I was cast over other actors that had more experience yet Mrs. Sutherland saw something in me and gave me the opportunity. And what an opportunity it was. The play was called The Desperate Hours and it was a student-faculty production. This meant there would be students and staff from the high school cast together in the play. Having the opportunity to work with and be mentored by the adults in the cast was something I’ve never forgotten and it’s the foundation with which Wisconsin Theater Arts was created. Over the next few years of high school I learned so much about the world of theater, the skills and lessons that molded me into the actor (and teacher) I am today.

Mrs. Sutherland used to always say, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” This statement doesn’t speak to any person’s stature, but the fact that every actor, no matter the size of their role, is integral to the performance. She helped all of us to understand that working together on a play was the ultimate participatory sport. We only succeeded if ALL of us succeeded. Performing in a play or musical was about working together as a team, an ensemble. Anything else was a recipe for failure. I was recently reminded about how often Mrs. Sutherland said this statement and realized how it stuck with me all these years.

As a teacher and director I’ve stated that same line to countless groups of young actors and performers that I’ve worked with over the years. Without me even realizing it, Mrs. Sutherland was speaking through me.

A life lesson learned back in high school was being passed on. Her legacy was being passed on. Mrs. Sutherland was also a mentor to me. Someone I could just sit and chat with. So many study halls when I had nothing else to complete I would get a pass to the large office area where most of the teachers had their desk space. So many times I would make my way to her desk and help with various tasks and just chat. That mentor relationship stuck with me all these years. Even as a drama teacher I made sure that my students had a place to just sit and chat. It makes such a difference in young people’s lives.

So here I am today. Over 30 years of experience under my belt as an actor, dancer, director, choreographer, and teacher. All of this because of an extraordinary teacher I was blessed to cross paths with way back in high school. Mrs. Sutherland passed away on December 31, 1990, after a long battle with cancer. She was 43 years old. Gone much too soon. But her legacy certainly lives on in so many of us who had the privilege of working with her and knowing her.

A friend from high school said to me, “Mrs. Sutherland would be so proud of you!” That statement means so much to me. And my response to it, as I look up to Heaven, “THANK YOU, Mrs. Sutherland, for showing me YOUR world.” ~Patti

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