Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

17 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Linda

I met Linda in 2001 when she arrived as an assistant professor at my undergrad as the new voice teacher. I had entered the theatre department in 1999 with a focus on voice; the head of voice when I arrived was an extremely charismatic teacher whom I adored. I had been devastated when my first teacher left in 2000. The department had also had an interim teacher for a year while we searched for a new position. I had taken every voice class the department had to offer by the time Linda arrived, and – as was typical for me at this stage in my life – had far more opinions about things than was good for me. I also was a sensitive actor with a lot of feelings about my self-worth and ability. In other words, when Linda and I met, it was I who had all the baggage and it was Linda who managed to deal with my baggage.

I took all the voice classes again so that I could take them with Linda. I figured the discipline would be good for me and make me better and more attuned to the work. I was right. Class with Linda was totally different from that to which I was used, but it was a great experience. My friend Justin and I to this day slip into the ridiculous Irish dialects from Juno and the Paycock that we did for Linda's dialect class. All my friends and I studied Shakespeare with Linda, too, and most of us were in her production of Othello in 2002 (I was in Canada studying when Linda directed her first show at Cal Poly). I played Roderigo in that Othello production, and Linda's husband Matt always tells me how much he loved my performance in that. I always protest when he does this – I am no actor, let's be honest – but I secretly love it. I gave my all to that show.

I studied acting with Linda as well, and something must've shifted in our relationship by the time I was ready to graduate, because I remember we were supposed to turn in our acting journals to her (oh my lord, acting journals), and I gave her my journal in an unexpurgated form. It was filled with all of my angst and love and sadness over Andrew in addition to (I wasn't that bad of a student) all of my acting and voice work. Linda read the whole thing and called me in to the office to spend time caretaking. It was such a special and generous gesture; it meant to me that I was not alone, that someone was listening, that – in a way – love had a voice. It was the perfect instance of someone knowing instinctively precisely what someone else needed in a moment.

After I graduated, Linda (and Bill Morse, who was our beloved chair for many years) hired me back to direct at the school. I directed maybe four or five shows for them during those years. I had an obsession with Thornton Wilder and did two productions of Wilder's work, one of which, The Long Christmas Dinner, Linda performed in beautifully. Linda also assigned me the job of directing a production of Dickens's Hard Times, a script that seemed impossibly difficult when she gave it to me. Linda always believed in me, though, always wrote me glowing recommendation letters, and got me directing jobs. She got me a job directing Shrew for a theatre company in Long Beach in 2004, and provided me the opportunity – with Southern California Shakespeare – to do Two Gentlemen the way I really wanted to the year after that.

More than anything else, though, Linda has become such a dear, dear friend. We speak on the phone frequently, and we talk about pedagogy and theatre and the struggles of teaching and working at the same time. This summer we had a hilarious conversation about sending students to grad school and after agreeing with each other about everything for about twenty minutes she said "Isn't it great that we're both just so smart!" We burst out laughing.

She is also a really wonderful actress. I have seen her in probably more shows than I can count, but each time I am struck by just how good a performer she is. She can make lines in Shakespeare that you had no idea contained comedy just zing. At the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, she frequently plays supporting roles and she always stands out, often as the best aspect of the production she's in (I am remembering off the top of my head a rather painful As You Like It where Linda absolutely soared in a laugh-out-loud performance of Phebe.)

I adore both her and her husband, and every time I am in California, Linda and Matt and I make a point to spend quality time together. Often this means having dinner at Linda's house. Linda is a fabulous cook, so we'll sit and chat until early in the morning, trading stories, catching up about old friends, and often talking about Shakespeare. Linda takes a great interest in my writing and has been one of my greatest supporters, and I cannot even articulate how much I love this woman and how deeply she has become a part of my life. It is a great blessing to have someone who has been my teacher become a treasured friend, and I am incredibly grateful for all she has taught me, as well as all of the support she continues to provide me through her friendship.