Patti Hannon didn’t expect, when she first yanked on a hair shirt in 1995, that she’d still be wearing it more than 20 years later. Hannon, who studied theater with the Second City improv troupe, first played cantankerous Sister in Mary Pat Donovan’s Late Nite Catechism in her native Chicago in 1995. Productions in Boston and New York followed. Set in cranky Sister’s catechism classroom, Donovan’s audience participation comedy landed in Scottsdale in 2000 where it (and four separate Sister sequels) has been playing ever since. During Sister’s summer respite, Scottsdale resident Hannon catches up on her reading, pet-sits for friends and indulges the occasional magazine interviewer.
Do you worry that you’re missing out on acting opportunities, having played the same role for 21 years?
I’ve worked with a couple theaters here, but it’s hard for people to think of me as characters other than Sister. I’d love to do more Shakespeare. I could play Puck, or the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Usually I can’t appear in a play because I’m Sister on the weekends. Also, there aren’t a lot of professional theaters here, and it’s hard to work and not get paid. Plus, I’m old! The roles for people my age are few and far between. People say, “Write something yourself!” That’s not my forte. I do miss rowing along with the spirit of what theater is, which is telling new and different stories.
What have you learned about nuns over the past 20 years?
That they’re human. I thought they were special because they had a calling, but when I was 8 years old I saw a nun in a public restroom and it occurred to me, “Oh yeah, they gotta go to the bathroom, too!” Growing up in a Catholic neighborhood, where everyone had great respect for the clergy, I was thinking, “I don’t want to be a nun. I want to be a nurse.” Actually, I wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t think my parents could afford to send me to medical school.
What about when audience members try to upstage you?
Usually they don’t. But I can see a troublemaker coming. Sometimes I can smell them coming, because they’re drunk. It’s very rare that anyone is really disrespectful to Sister. The audience gets mad at people who are rude to her. But remember, Sister has someone up in the booth who’s watching, and he’ll send for the house manager if things get out of hand.
Is it possible that revisiting Catholic school can traumatize people who had a bad time there?
Absolutely. But only if they choose to be traumatized. I’ve had people come to the door of the theater and say, “I hate all nuns!” I understand. I had a lot of wacky nuns in Catholic school myself. But you have to let go of that stuff, or you’re going to be sitting in the old folks’ home being miserable about something that happened 70 years ago, instead of being that cheerful old guy who’s just happy there’s a fruit cup on his lunch tray.