Women of Influence
At Russell Sage College, we like to use the term “Women of Influence” for the students. It describes the kind of women we want to graduate from this small women’s college in Troy, New York. The term gets me thinking about who the women of influence have been in my life, the ones who got me going, the ones who kept me going, and the ones I think of today when I need inspiration.
I am fortunate: there are too many to mention in one writing. But, like many, I start with my mother. One of my first memories is seeing her in community theatre production of SKIN OF OUR TEETH, as Sabina, “Oh, oh, oh six o’clock and the master’s not ‘ome yet!” She was standing in doorway – with no walls around it. She was all lit up; she was different, she was powerful up there. And the rest, as they say, is (my) history.
In 9th grade Dottie Weiner was my English teacher, and she directed the school plays. Clearly she saw something in me I did not yet see in myself. She welcomed me to the school in a way that no one else had (my family has just moved back East from Las Vegas) and the Drama Club was my home at school for the next three years. But I remember her classes as much as I remember her direction. We had to write an essay on “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” (I think that was Bernard Malamud?). I never forgot the bliss of trying to sort that out in my mind, the bliss of having someone teach to the mind I felt I had, and of course, the lesson of that damned quote.
Because I’m writing on women here, I am excluding two very fine English teachers in 8th & 9th grade, and two very disturbing acting teachers I encountered during my college years. Taking time to recall that I was in school during the pre-sexual harassment years, suffice it to say that it was a relief when we had women running the classes because we didn’t have to defend ourselves from advances, and no woman teacher that I ever met showed up on a student’s doorstep expecting to be let in at 11 at night. I am relieved for the students today. They have a language and a grievance process for something that, back in the day, we just had to deal with if we wanted to study at certain places with certain teachers.
One of the biggest influences for me, in the shortest amount of time, was Anne Bogart.
In 1987, I believe it was, she taught a workshop called Dance Theater Dance in Northampton, Massachusetts. I had heard about Anne from a friend and had the three weeks free, so off I went. It turned out to be a pivotal event for me as a theatre artist. We trained hard, Kevin Kuhlke was one of the teachers, and Anne walked us through a lot of what later became known as her Viewpoints work. She had these techniques for creating what felt to me like instant theatre. I learned then how much could be done by leaping in and not waiting for someone else to pay you, find the place, the time, the script. Everything I learned in that short intensive has gone on to inform and aid my work as a teacher, actor and director for the next 25 years. I have also been mightily influence by a woman who passed away before I met her: Alvina Krause. She was by all accounts a great acting teacher and the inspiration for the founding of The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble where I worked for almost 12 years. She had passed away a few years before BTE hired me, but she was in every rehearsal in spirit for years to come. “Miss Krause said …” was a familiar refrain and ultimately her methods informed my work as a director.
But I have also been inspired and influenced by my many women friends in and out of the arts, and by wonderful encounters with women all over the world. Just the other day I was out at a play reading and struck up a conversation with an elderly lady next to me. When the reading was over, we chatted briefly about the work, and managed to crack each other up a few times. When she stood up to leave, she bent down and with a big grin on her face, gave my cheek a pinch. That just about made my day.
I’ve worked in the public schools teaching arts in education for years. Elementary education is still mostly the work of women – I have met so many wonderful women and seen them at work in their classrooms day after day.
My most recent inspiration is the indefatigable Kristen van Ginhoven. If ever there were a person who didn’t take no for an answer, it would be Kristen. I don’t know if she’s yin and I’m yang, but we seem to be opposites and yet together we get so much done.
As I write this, a check for a thousand dollars is ready to go out to Women for Women International as a result of our first WAM event, A WAM WELCOME. We jumped in, and created a theatrical event, and started a journey together. Hopefully, we will inspire some people along the way.
Written by Leigh Strimbeck, co-Artistic Director, WAM Theatre
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