Actor/director Priscilla Lindsay who has been with the Indiana Repertory Theatre since its 1974-1975 season, is leaving her position as the theatre’s associate artistic director. One of Indianapolis most popular actors, she has performed in over 60 roles at IRT. In the fall she will become the new Chair of theTheatre Department in the School of Music,Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
A mother and grandmother, Lindsay, aka “Pris”, 61, is married to Richard Ferguson-Wagstaffe. Her children include Sarah, 34, who lives in Boston with husband Robert and son Jack (14 months); Bill, 31, who lives in Broad Ripple with wife Kristen and daughter Lilly (8 months old); and Maggie, 23, an actress who lives in Seattle.
In Indianapolis until the end of August, Lindsay spoke with dampfang.com the day before she was honored at a “Priscilla Lindsay Day” celebration at the IRT on Tuesday, August 3.
What are you feeling these days?
We are pretty much swamped. I’m feeling verklempt. Tomorrow is the big IRT party and that’s going to be a big deal. I’m basically splitting my time between Ann Arbor and Indianapolis getting our house ready to sell.
Are you experiencing any mixed emotions?
Oh my gosh yes. It’s so multi-level. I let Janet [Allen] know about this when I was first approached. I did it with trepidation but I knew I had to. She just burst into a whoop and a holler and then we both cried. She has been a rock and a support ever since the possibility of this came up because we both know it’s a wonderful opportunity and something I just couldn’t pass up. It’s just amazing after 30 years at the IRT being my home. When she first took over the artistic directorship here at the theatre, she asked Richard and me to be here and support her. We were more than happy to do it and were thrilled to be asked. So that’s what I’m thinking about. All those relationships. All those friendships that go so deep. Not that they’re going away but it’s going to be different.
How do you think academia will differ from the professional theatre?
Probably more meetings. I’m not crazy about meetings but I’m sure there’ll be more of them. There is just nothing like the University of Michigan. It’s a high powered research university combined with a great tradition in the arts. You’d be hard pressed to find another university like it in the country. My boss, Dean Christopher Kendall, is spearheading an effort to bring the arts into all the other disciplines. It’s going to be a very exciting to see what that it will produce and I’m going to be a part of that. As chair of the theatre department, I will have approximately 23 professors and other staff under me. The big degree there is the BFA along with a BTA, Bachelor of Theatre Arts. During the second semester I’ll be teaching acting. In a year I’ll be teaching a directing class and I hope to direct a show.
How did they find you?
I have been invited twice in the last three years to direct a show. It’s my alma mater. I went to Michigan and so did my husband Richard. Through the years we’ve kept in touch with our professors that we had in the 70’s and 80’s. It was a very strong department when we were there and we’ve been real loyal in terms of keeping in touch. I knew how the department was set up. They asked me to direct George Bernard Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell,” and Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” both of which were quite successful. The faculty enjoyed working with me. The students were fabulous. So when the Dean was making a change they didn’t want to do a search because it is extremely expensive and takes a long time. He wanted it to get done as efficiently as possible. He presented the idea of me to the faculty and after some consideration they decided to invite me.
Did it take some chutzpah on your part to accept this new challenge?
Important things in my life have always seemed to have happened that way. Someone will present something to me and my first knee jerk reaction is to say ‘No” Are you kidding? I couldn’t possibly do that!’ Then I think about it and usually Richard is right there by me and says, ‘You’ve got to do this. This is a chance of a lifetime.’ Once I think about it, I say ‘O.K.’
Like many baby boomers you aren’t afraid to reinvent yourself are you?
Oh, I agree. That exactly right. We’re a generation that hasn’t had the same job all our professional lives as our parents did. We have had to be very facile and I think try to stay positive in the face of all the changes in not only the way business is done in this country but also in our society. Certainly in the late 60’s and 70’s things shifted a lot and you either had to go with the flow or be left behind.
What has been your biggest achievement at IRT?
Helping to create a vibrant acting community. When I came here, actors were here but not many of them stayed. I don’t think there was in place an acting community who felt they were supported professionally. Actors have become supportive of each other. The theatres enjoy each other and a lot of that has to do with Janet but I certainly am proud of the fact that we can boast a very strong local community of actors. I think they can stand up to just about anybody.
It’s relative but…there’s always probably going to be some roles that passed me by, simply because it was the wrong timing or I grew up! There are roles I would have loved to play but I never got to and I never will.
What was your favorite role at IRT?
Probably a toss up. I loved doing “Shirley Valentine.” Once I got over being scared stiff about it. That was all- consuming because it was a huge one woman show. I know that many women identified with me in that role. It was seminal. It came into the consciousness when women were dealing with issues like in “Shirley.” She was such an endearing character so I was very privileged to play her. That’s for sure. Another of my favorite roles was Ma Joad in “Grapes of Wrath.”
What was your favorite directing assignment?
I think I’ve always loved directing “A Christmas Carol.” It was a legacy production left me by one of mentors, Tom Haas and later Scott Wentworth. It’s really a labor of love. It’s a signature piece of the theatre and I’ve always felt so proud that I helped to bring it to life every year.
Any parting words for your fans?
Before and after each show when I get to greet the folks in the lobby I have always been struck by the fact that they consider me a personal friend. They think that they know me from what I’ve done and they do because I have shared parts of myself on stage. That makes my experience with them an intimate one. I value their love and feelings for me so highly. I feel the same way about them. IRT has such wonderful audiences. They come to expect a high caliber show and they most always get it. They come with a twinkle in their eye. They are ready to be entertained and challenged. IRT audiences are very special. I’m sure other cities have great audiences but I think we have a very strong bond with our theatre-goers. They expect a lot and as a result I always felt like I needed to deliver every time. It’s a been a great trust.
To find out more about Indiana Repertory Theatre, Indiana’s largest Equity theatre, and its 2010-2011 season visit www.irtlive.com.