After teaching at the University of Texas for 12 years, Carolyn Gillespie moved to Michigan so her husband could take a job at Oakland University. That was in 1987. At the same time, she found that a nearby campus was looking to hire two new acting teachers. She applied, and as they say-cliché allowed-the rest is history. However, after a nearly 24-year run, the curtain will soon be coming down on an award-winning career that has helped focus a national spotlight on the UM-Flint Theatre program.
She shared with us some reflections on her career.
Q: Any particular reason to make the decision now?
C.G.: I still love my job, but I’ve been teaching for 35 years. It’s time for new ideas. Do you really want to stay until people want you to leave and/or you hate your work? And how much money do you really need?
Q: Do you have a particular high-point here in your teaching career?
C.G.: So many high points – many more highs than lows. Lows usually involved toxic personalities; highs have been the wonderfully playful, insightful, available colleagues and students with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. And every production feels like a high point! Some have felt positively magical.
Q: Was there (is there) a favorite play?
C.G.: I think my all-time favorite production was Nothing Sacred by Canadian playwright George Walker in 1991. My, that was a long time ago! But really, whatever you are working on at the time becomes your favorite show. It helps to love it when you’re doing it.
Q: What plays will you do this year?
C.G.: I’m directing two pieces this season, one each semester. Both are plays about women, and both are plays about hope, two themes that have attracted much of my attention over the years. I have just begun rehearsals for Intimate Apparel by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage. It’s a beautiful play about an African American seamstress in New York City circa 1905 who has a dream of a better life. It is the American Dream, isn’t it? All the people in this play are immigrants of sorts, each with a story. In fact, this whole season is about dreamers. The piece I’m doing in February features a young woman from Kokomo, Indiana who sets out to invent television in 1927. Though history tells us she was beaten to the punch, what happens to her story when it is taken over by the fledgling industry in the 1950s is the crux of the matter.
Q: What do you see as the future of the department?
C.G.: My younger colleagues need to determine the future of the department! I hope that they will continue the tradition of quality work that addresses important questions. I hope that they will continue to find ways to serve our diverse community. I hope that they will find their own voices and passions, using them to forge a new future.
Q: I understand you spent this past summer teaching on a ship?
C.G.: I did. And all of a sudden I’ve been noticing advertisements for the Semester at Sea program on bulletin boards around the university. I taught on the beautiful MV Explorer for 10 weeks as we traveled the Mediterranean world and all its wonders with 32 faculty, 735 students from 49 of the 50 states and 16 foreign countries, plus staff, some life-long learners, family members, and a marvelous crew. The program is run by the Institute for Shipboard Education with the University of Virginia as its academic sponsor. Students typically took nine credits, including a Global Studies course which I was privileged to audit. Ours was the 102nd voyage. The ship is currently doing a semester-long voyage around the world. I’m happy to talk to anyone personally about this transformative experience.
Q: Any plans for retirement?
C.G.: I’m having a hard time imagining what retirement will be like. I’m a little afraid of it because I like to keep busy. I have a hard time sitting still. But I have a garden that I love to tend, some traveling to do, some French verbs to sort through, and some energy to give to the community, particularly in the area of literacy.