The S.B. Questionnaire: Ivy Vahanian

Talking Theater, Hubris, and Tenacity with Cofounder of The Producing Unit

Ivy Vahanian
Paul Wellman

Actress Ivy Vahanian, a founding member of a Santa Barbara theater group called The Producing Unit, is excited to be presenting Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-winning drama Disgraced, which hits Center Stage Theater on September 28.

The timely play centers such themes such as Islamophobia and the identity of Muslim-American citizens. It takes place during a dinner party with four people from very different backgrounds, and things get heated as their discussion turns to politics and religion.

Vahanian is no stranger to the powerful drama. She starred last year on Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage in a successful production of this play that was directed by Timothy Douglas, and then toured universities and high schools in China. “Over 20,000 Chinese people came to see the play,” she says, explaining that specialists in U.S.–Middle East Relations, American studies, Islamic studies, and other experts joined the cast for post-performance panel discussions. “Seventy-eight percent of people in America have not met a Muslim person,” she explains. “Immigration is a huge part of our country.”

Ivy has been living in Santa Barbara for the past six years with her husband, Jesper Sverdrup, and three sons. She was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, to a household of artists, her father in stained glass, her mother a gallery owner. After attending the prestigious Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, she’s worked steadily in theater, from regional productions across the country to Broadway, where she debuted in 2007 as part of Coram Boy, opposite Uzo Aduba from Orange Is the New Black fame.

“The theater is my church,” she confides. “I’m able to have a communion with the people who are there.”

She cofounded The Producing Unit to bring new works to Santa Barbara that aren’t typically staged here. “I don’t need to turn the political tide in this city,” she says, “but Disgraced does create a healthy conversation.”

Ivy answers the Proust questionnaire.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I could only hope to identify with aspects of Mary Pickford and Lillian Hellman.

Who do you most admire?

Anyone that can admit they are wrong because, for me, honor and integrity come from growth.

What do you like most about your job?

The people, in every aspect. The humanity, the collaboration, the failings, the creativity, the deepest sense of play, and the impermanence.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Free from my own discontent. A world where equality reigns, touch is supreme, and ignorance is obliterated.

What is your greatest fear?

That our hubris has already detonated the Earth’s self-destruct button and our future generations will be subject to great suffering.

What is your greatest extravagance?

My metallic Louboutins!

What is your current state of mind?


What is the quality you most like in people?


What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Apathy and an unwillingness to hear.

What do you most value in friends?

Transparency, connection, and integrity. I am so blessed with loving, soulful friends!

What is your most marked characteristic?

My tenacity and my dancing feet.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Stop!” (I have three sons). “No worries.” And “I love you.”

Which talent would you most like to have?

Playing the drums while tap dancing, like Lauren Brown of Kolars. She is amazing!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My judgement. Self- and otherwise.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

A sense of balance.

Where would you most like to live?

In the woods by a running stream.

What is your most treasured possession?

My father’s flying machine … It’s a five-foot kinetic glass sculpture.

Who makes you laugh the most?

Jordan Matter.

What is your motto?

I am where my feet are.

On what occasion do you lie?

On the rare occasion I don’t tell the truth.


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