It was a beautiful afternoon in early April, 2000, with the spring flowers brightening New York’s streets. A brilliant blue sky hovered above Washington Square, students were doing their usual crisscrossing the urban quad, calling out to one another and rushing to classes.
I was in a state of nerves. I’d prepared for this day for weeks, and had come to interview the renowned theater actress Uta Hagen with some trepidation.I was an arts journalist for the Los Angeles Times with an interest in theater—but no training in the form. She was the ultimate teacher and precisionist in stage performance. And an intimidating presence, I’d been warned. I rang the bell.
To prepare, I’d read her books and gone to the Lincoln Center library to watch a video of the original Broadway cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, to witness, some 40 years after the fact, Hagen make her mark on Edward Albee’s masterwork. In the interview fully expected to be chided for my ignorance, but instead I was treated to a wonderful conversation with an expert. Uta Hagen was delightful.
Her home was in one of those beautiful legacy buildings that have adorned the square for more than a century, and inside the entry hall was filled with photos, documenting a long career.
We sat in the living room and had tea as she told me about her process of preparing to reprise the role of Martha for a staged reading in Los Angeles, a fundraiser for the studio and for the Center Theatre Group staff that was presenting. She said she was, despite her prowess, still a bit nervous, which honestly surprised me. She opened up to the interview with grace. We talked for more than an hour, and I left feeling that I’d witnessed a bit of history, charmed by an aura of greatness.
Susan Freudenheim, arts writer
Born in Germany, Uta Hagen moved to Madison, Wisconsin, at the age of six. With the exception of several interruptions for study in Europe, Ms. Hagen received most of her schooling in Madison, her home until age sixteen. After training briefly at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, she made her professional debut in 1937 in Dennis, Massachusetts, as “Ophelia” in Eva Le Gallienne’s production of Hamlet.Learn more