April 8, 2005
Lois Kagan Mingus
New York NY
West 21st Street
New York NY
Department of Fine Arts
Dear Lois and Jerry:
Now that several weeks have passed and I'm still hearing positive remarks about The Living Theatre's residency at Roanoke, I wanted to write this letter telling you again what a valuable experience it was for all of us in the Theatre Program and for the college at large. To put it very simply, the students had a ball throughout the residency and the culminating performance, and the audiences found that performance to be a refreshing and stimulating change of pace in the Theatre Program's performance season. What you and Jerry have done in co-founding The Living Theatre Workshops is remarkable in so many ways, not the least of which is creating a mechanism by which students of theatre in a collegiate environment hundreds (or thousands) of miles from NYC work in such close contact with a cadre of professionals, people who have devoted their lives to theatre both as an art and an instrument for social commentary and exploration. Among the things that the students report enjoying most about the workshops was the intensity of their immersion in the creative process and the way in which they found themselves working in partnership with you and Jerry and Tom and Joanie.
It was a wonderful experience in many, many ways, and I'm going to permit mysef to be a little lazy and, rather than meld them into a couple of paragraphs, I'm going to give you the following list of observations and reflections about your impact on the 17 students with whom the four of you worked:
1. Your company inspired and nurtured the students, allowing them to discover for themselves what they wanted to say about life at the college and in the greater community. Then, rather than simply telling them how to say those things, you led them through a process of collective creativity that let them find their own unique voice as individuals and as members of the production company.
2. All four of you were remarkably generous with your time both in Olin Theater and across the college campus. Not only did you meet with students in theatre classes (performance and history), but you accepted invitations to meet with students from several other departments. (And, as a happy sidebar, the Head of Campus Housekeeping called a couple of days after your departure to tell me what wonderful guests you were in the College's Guest House. Apparently you made a very positive impression on his staff, and he wanted to be sure that I knew that you would be welcome guests back at the college any time. That has never happened before in my experience at Roanoke!)
3. The students' exploration of Living Theatre techniques fit beautifully with what they're experiencing in their performance classes here, and you found ways to help them discover aspects of their vocal and physical skills that, in many cases, allowed them to function at a performance level beyond their expectations. Your work with them was liberating and inspirational and fostered a sense of confidence and self-esteem and enhanced their communication skills in ways that I am confident will enrich their lives both as performers and, more importantly, as human beings. They completed their work with you with a new awareness of how to think and perform improvisationally and with greater confidence in themselves as actors.
Furthermore, and something that I especially appreciated, since I teach the lion's share of the program's history and literature courses is that all four of you demonstrated an awareness of the world beyond theatre that supported my contention that serious students and practitioners of theatre read books and newspapers and listen to and watch the news. This is a "Sermon" I "preach" to them on an almost daily basis, and all four of you provided living, breathing confirmation of the fact that good actors, serious actors are students not just of the stage and its history but, rather, of the world, past and present. Thank you so very much for that. It comes so naturally to the four of you that, I suspect, you don't always realize what you're teaching them simply by being who you are.
In closing, I'm especially happy to tell you that I spoke to Dr. John Day, Roanoke's Vice-president and Dean of Academic Affairs (and one of the people responsible for providing the funding for your residency), and it was clear that he and his wife had thoroughly enjoyed the performance and had been deeply impressed by what you had helped our students create. Such a positive response is going to make it much easier to present future successful grant proposals. Thank you for that and for everything else. Keep up the wonderful work!
Dr. Bruce L. Partin
Professor of Theatre and Chair of Fine Arts