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Master Class with Lavin '59: Engaging theater students

  • Linda Lavin '59
    Linda Lavin '59  Famed actress teaches W&M undergraduates during Master Class.  
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Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall once again came alive with the presence of Linda Lavin '59 as the famed actress worked behind the scenes to help undergraduate theater students find their steps, their voices and their motivations during a master class in musical theatre repertoire.

Lavin, who only last fall performed her one-woman concert "Songs and Confessions of a One-Time Waitress" on the PBK stage, sat among members of the audience as the students performed their numbers. She encouraged them, even as she empathized.

"Singing on-stage is baptism by fire," she said. "There is nothing scarier. There is nothing more solitary and more personal and more vulnerable. ... Singing is opening up, just as acting is, but there is a different dynamic. I know this because it is so scary for me. When it comes to music, it is another dynamic of stress and of challenge."

According to Gary Green, music director for the College's department of theatre, speech and dance, Lavin helped students find their voices and envision their futures. "Linda Lavin brings, especially to the William & Mary stage, a career full of successful theatrical experiences both in acting and singing," he said. "She knows the difficulty of the art of singing and acting and how the two should be married together, which is not an easy feat. Considering she cristened the new Phi Beta Kappa Memorial theatre back on March 27, 1957, in a production of Romeo and Juliet, I know it made an impression on the students that they, too, can begin a career for themselves starting on this very stage."

During her stay on campus, Lavin coached the students in a manner that provided digestable bits of advice without contributing to their nervousness. She seemed energized by her exchanges with them, just as they eagerly incorporated her instruction.

"The students got a great sense of accomplishment," Green said. "Going into the master class, they would ask me how she was going to work with them, or, would it be different than the way I work with them. Having material ready for public attention is difficult enough, but after performing the song the first time, they gained a sense of ease in trying to incorporate new or different motivations that the posed to them into the pieces."

Lavin headed to New York City following her graduation in 1959. She sang in Broadway choruses and eventually landed a feature part in "It's a Bird … It's a Plane … It's Superman." She went on to win a Tony nomination for her work in Neil Simon's "Last of the Red-Hot Lovers." She became most famous for her television role as Alice Hyatt on the CBS comedy "Alice." The show ran for nine years. Lavin won two Best Actress Gloden Globe awards for her portrayals.

In 1984, the College recognized Lavin with its Alumni Medallion. That same year, she served as grand marshal for the Homecoming Parade. During commencement exercises last spring, Lavin received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.