Fireside Chats: Priscilla Lindsay, University of Michigan

A new series!  In Fireside Chats, theatre and drama faculty from The University of Michigan and Syracuse University will share their thoughts on the evolution of students, teaching and the industry.  Let us know if you have any questions you wish you had asked your college professors!

First up is Priscilla Lindsay, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Drama at the University of Michigan, from which she also graduated with both a BA and an MA.  I’ll get out of her way and let her fantastic answers do the talking…

What was your professional trajectory?  Was teaching always something you considered or wanted to do? 
I have been a professional actress for over 40 years.  I have been a professional director for over 20 years.  I always wanted to act, mostly in regional theatre, and I did just that.  I also am a voiceover talent for commercial work regionally and nationally – with my professional “home” for that with my agent in Chicago.  I taught briefly at the University of Missouri- Kansas City when I was with the Missouri Repertory Theatre.  Then as Associate Artistic Director for the Indiana Repertory Theatre, I taught and was Director for the IRT’s Summer Conservatory for Youth for ages 7-18 yrs, for 12 years.  I have always loved teaching young folks but considered it secondary to my professional life.

What is the most rewarding thing about teaching at a university level?  The most surprising? 
I am the most surprised by how much I love the college age group – before that I was in love with junior high kids!  These students are smart, sensitive, loving, and ambitious.  I am also surprised by how much I enjoy the administrative side of things! 

What is your connection to the professional world?  How do you balance that connection with your commitment to academia?  
I have not acted for a couple of seasons now – but plan to.  I am directing professionally this summer.  I stay in touch with my professional friends, with shows, with our alums/recentgrads who are in shows,  with my agent, with the IRT. 

What is an exciting piece of theatre you’ve encountered recently?  What excited you about it? 
I adored WAR HORSE last winter – the circus quality of it, the bigger-than-life aspect of it. I loved our production of CLOUD NINE this spring, directed by guest artist Tim Ocel – he rocked and so did our actors, with a very difficult, provocative piece.

Have you noticed a shift in how new theatre is produced and/or fostered at the college level?  At the professional level?  
Yes. The shift is away from training solely for theatre, and now includes film, TV and other media. We have to prepare our students for all that, and we have to prepare them to hit the professional world running – without a graduate degree.  I think we need to produce more new works, and not let the students have ownership of  the “edgy stuff” in their own productions.

The idea of the “millennial” generation has gotten quite a bit of buzz recently.  Have you noticed a change in the students of the recent past?  How have their outlooks or focuses changed?  
These kids have helicopter parents who are staying involved in their children’s lives well into their twenties. These kids also have real fears about “making it,” based on the crappy economy and so many unknowns, BUT they are more prepared than past generations to be entrepreneurial, self-starters, flexible, and creative at ways to make money.

As a professor, how do you find the balance between education in the art of theatre and preparation for the business of theatre? 
I find that it is something that constantly needs updating , revision, and scrutiny.  We will have the chance to find a “new balance” as we begin to hire three new faculty members, who will infuse our program with new ideas and new perspectives.

What have your students taught you?  
To always be honest in my opinions and my advice; to acknowledge the fact that I don’t have all the answers; to give up power to empower them.

Describe your proudest moment(s) as a professor.  
So far it has to be when an actor takes adjustments to heart and then jumps off “the cliff” to put those adjustments into play.  Ninety percent of the time they surprise themselves and delight me!

We can’t thank Professor Lindsay enough for participating in our first ever Fireside Chat.  More to come!