February 10, 2014
Topic: Arts & Culture
More than 30 years and hundreds of performances after Priscilla Lindsay first graduated from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, she has returned to U-M in a role that she never expected.
"I always knew I wanted to act," she says. "I learned later on how much I loved directing. But I had no idea (that I would return to U-M)."
Lindsay, the first woman to chair the Department of Theatre & Drama, received a Bachelor of Arts in theatre from U-M in 1971 and a Master of Arts in theatre in 1972.
"This offer came pretty late in my career, and I didn't know I wanted it until I really wanted it," she laughs.
Priscilla Lindsay is the first woman to chair the Department of Theatre & Drama. (Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography)
In her brightly lit office at the Walgreen Drama Center, Lindsay has collected an array of what she calls "touchstones" from her school years and theatre career. Colorful costume sketches and photos cover the walls, many from the 15 productions in which she performed as a student at U-M. She points out a plush red audience chair from the Trueblood Auditorium in the old Frieze Building (now North Quadrangle), as well as a brick from its foundation.
U-M was the starting point for Lindsay's rich acting and directing career, which found a home at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, where she appeared in more than 60 shows over 33 years. She also taught local aspiring actors through the IRT's acting classes, including an intensive summer acting conservatory for students age 6 through high school.
"Once I started teaching at the IRT, I knew I loved working with young people," she says. "What's fun is watching the students grow. There's no set pattern; you never know when the light bulb's going to go on and they're going to see their way."
Now, as chair of the theatre program at her alma mater, Lindsay mentors theatre stars of the future.
"Our students are exceptional. We audition over 350 applicants every year, and we take 18 to 20; they are the crème de la crème. They're really amazing kids and they work so hard, and so we (the faculty) work hard," she says.
With such a remarkable student body, Lindsay says that it is important for the students to understand a sometimes-overlooked potential of theatre degrees: the role of theatre professionals as facilitators of social issues in communities and arts organizations.
"Actors often kind of think that they have to go out and audition, audition, audition, and they just have to just be waiters or something. We want them to know that theatre and all the arts are central to their community's growth and health," she says.
Lindsay is currently co-teaching a class on the topic of process drama and applied theatre with Gillian Eaton, assistant professor of performing arts. Lindsay says that it comes at exactly the right moment for the department and its mission.
"The students coming through now are much more community and civic-minded than they were twenty years ago," she says. "They want to make a difference in the community."
What moment in the classroom stands out as the most memorable?
When I see an actor grab a hold of a character or a scene and make it their own.
What can't you live without?
I can't live without other people. I'm a people person; I can't live without their energy and I thrive on being with other people.
What is your favorite spot on campus?
I think my favorite spot now is the Walgreen Drama Center Lobby. It's all full of people, a lot of the time!
What inspires you?
Ideas and dedicated artists.
What are you currently reading?
"The Art Spirit" by Robert Henri, and a whole mess of plays.
Who had the greatest influence on your career path?
The professors when I was here, particularly William P. Halstead, Claribel Beard, Richard Burgwin and James Coakley. They were amazing, not only when I was here, but also I stayed friends with them all my life.