Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching
Theater’s Snow plays many roles and loves them all
Donna Snow was bitten by the theater bug early on. When she was 2 1/2, she dragged the mattress from her crib downstairs and made a stage for her dolls in the living room. At age 5, she saw South Pacific and soon was singing all the songs in the show.
She also loved playing school and, of course, being the teacher. When she was in first grade, she opened a two-room schoolhouse in her parents’ basement, which, not surprisingly, had a picnic-table stage for “school” plays.
A year later, her mother came home and found the second grader charging admission to a Halloween party in the house, complete with singing, dancing and dramatic performances by the neighborhood kids.
“I always loved to create worlds,” she said, recalling her childhood in Laurel Springs, N.J. “My mom had all of these 1950s petticoats you could make great costumes out of, and I’d take big boxes from the Hotpoint appliance store across the street to make scenery.”
At the University of Washington in Seattle, where she majored in English literature and minored in theater, she took every available theater course and performed in a dozen plays. At the encouragement of her teachers, she entered the M.F.A. advanced training program in acting at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, receiving her degree in 1980.
In theater, she said, her passion for literature, politics, music, art and dance found a natural expression. And teaching allows her to share all of that.
Snow, a winner of one of this year’s Lindback Awards for Distinguished Teaching, doesn’t differentiate between her role as a teacher and her role as an actor. “For both, one must always be in the moment, be open to what one is receiving and find an effective response.
“I’m here [at Temple] because of the students. I really like them. They’re open, they have drive and they work hard, they’re risk-takers and they’re smart — smart about life. You can’t do theater if you’re closed-minded about life.”
Her students have clearly been open to the challenges she presents to them as a director and coach. Undergrads who have taken her “Acting as a Profession” course have gotten in to the top M.F.A. programs in the country, including Yale, Harvard, NYU, Columbia and UCLA, nearly all with full scholarships.
Before joining the Temple theater faculty in 1989, Snow lived in New York and enjoyed a successful career, and critical acclaim, as an actor, playing major roles off-Broadway and in regional theaters. When she played Bette in Christopher Durang’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo at Arena Stage, The Washington Post’s David Richards wrote, “The most surprising performance, however, is that of Donna Snow.” As Birdie in Lillian Hellman’s Another Part of the Forest at Seattle Repertory Theater she got a rave review from R.M. Campbell of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Snow’s Birdie Bagtry is all Southern belle — the most Southern character in the play. The character is a marvel and so is Snow’s portrait.”
It was after her daughter was born that she made the decision to move on.
“I was on tour that whole first year, and transporting her entire bedroom from one place to the next to give her a sense of home. When you’re performing, everything all day is about the performance that night. With a child, you’re focused elsewhere, and I found that I was tired by the time I got onstage. And I didn’t want to raise my daughter on the road.”
Now an associate professor and head of the undergraduate and graduate acting programs, she has redesigned the M.F.A. program in acting, increased performance opportunities for undergrads through her acting emphasis thesis class and introduced a course in “Acting as a Profession” to prepare students for graduate school and their professional careers. A master teacher of the Fitzmaurice voice technique, she has also taught voice and acting at the American Conservatory Theater, Circle-in-the-Square and the Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival.
At Temple, her work continues to garner critical accolades. When she directed the Temple Theaters production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Doug Keating wrote: “A remarkable ‘Homecoming’ at Temple. … Snow demonstrates a fine feel for the way Pinter frequently presents a character doing or saying something that you can’t imagine anyone really doing or saying but which seems absolutely true to the characters and the situation.”
Teaching, like theater, is about a real profound joy, she said. “I want to discover and develop the gift that lies within each student, empower and challenge them to go as far as they can go.”
- By Harriet Goodheart