Professor Emerita Kristin Linklater passed away at the end of last week. She was in her home on the Orkney Islands, where she went to live and teach after retiring from the Theatre Program and the School of the Arts in 2014. She was a legendary master teacher whose unique voice training techniques have influenced generations of actors and educators. I was always inspired by her brilliance, depth and fierceness. She was a great advocate for women artists and for women in leadership roles as well. Together with Andrea Haring we developed a program called “Taking the Stage” for the Global Leadership Fellows of the World Economic Forum. It was such a success that we have been doing that program for more than a decade—bringing the importance of theatre, art, play, spontaneity, and voice to the concept of leadership.
I asked Brian Kulick, Chair of the Theatre Program, to write about Kristin Linklater. Below is his elegant tribute to her as teacher and person.
Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts
To Our Columbia Theatre Community,
I am writing to you today about the sad loss of Kristin Linklater, one of the great guiding lights of our Theatre Program. Kristin passed away last Friday, June 5th at the venerable age of 84. She touched so many of our lives as an actor, author, arts leader, and, of course, life-altering teacher. Those of you who did not have the extraordinary privilege of encountering her in her native habitats of the classroom or the stage, can still get a sense of this remarkable artist by reading her groundbreaking book, Freeing the Natural Voice. Those three words—freeing, natural, and voice—are essential in understanding the profound ethos of Kristin and her life’s work. First and foremost was this idea of freeing us from the constraints of our quotidian world. Kristin was the champion of every manner of liberation and she led by example. Everything about the way she moved through the world bespoke a completely, transcendentally emancipated human being. It was intoxicating to be around her. You could actually get a contact high just by being in her presence. Second is that much taken-for-granted word: natural. There was something Rousseau-like in Kristin’s grand desire to restore us to our natural state-of-being, that moment of grace that most of us leave behind with our childhoods. All her work was devoted to the rigors of returning to this lost Eden of being. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the word: voice. You can’t get more personal, more essential, more natural than on the level of our voice. This instrument of expression that connects us to others and the world itself. A phenomenon that, when used properly, has the power to transfix and even transfigure us. Kristin held the keys to the forgotten powers of this basic human possession and she generously and passionately shared them to generation after generation of artists. We are forever in her debt.
Chair, Theatre Program
Columbia University School of the Arts