Linda Pisano was appointed Chairperson for the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance in July 2018. The first female chairperson of the department, Linda comes from an impressive background of Theatre Making, Performance, and Costume Technology Design.
Getting down to business with Linda…
As the new chairperson for the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance, what are you most excited about?
I’m very excited to work more closely with all of my theatre and dance colleagues. I have spent sixteen years as a colleague in different capacities but now I get to learn more about the faculty as individual artists and scholars to work with them on their path for success here at IU. Being able to facilitate opportunities and mentorship for the faculty and students is very exciting work. I’m also very enthusiastic about getting to know more of the students in a different capacity.
What kind of changes or improvements will you like to see happen in the Department? Do you have any special plans for us?
We’ve got a lot of plans! Our mission is clear, that excellence in creative activity and research are paramount. We stand by this in all its many forms; our faculty, students, classrooms and productions.
After listening to the faculty, I’ve established the following four priorities to navigate resources and initiatives. It is easy to see how these priorities complement one another, and indeed, support one another:
- Diversity and inclusion, we want to foster the experience and exploration of ‘difference’ in all that we do
- Refocusing a concentration on recruitment to our programs
- Cultivating a more intensive and robust BA undergraduate experience
- Partnership and engagement with our communities
The faculty has expressed our need for more partnership internally and externally as well as more exploration into bridging our classrooms and productions. Due to the specialization of our fields we have often been situated in silos, we are looking for creative ways to break down those walls and divisions to take a more contemporary look at making, doing, researching and creating. This includes studying of how dramatic structure, experience, rehearsal and methods are changing, and how we can integrate voice, movement, design, technology, playwriting, and so forth.
There are some physical changes being created to enhance our learning environment. A300U is being transformed this year into a space more similar to a collaborative research space. Not only does it house our script library but it will also have a configuration that is designed for small and large group intellectual and creative conversations about our work. My hope is that we will create a physical space that connects and bridges our academics with the creative and intellectual process of our productions. We are still working diligently and prioritizing dance space.
What do you think your biggest challenge will be?
I think rather than ‘biggest’ challenge will be contextualizing the ‘important’ challenge. Having a rotating chair model is new for us. In our department you aren’t just the chair, you are also the artistic director and producer of around 15 fully produced theatre and dance productions, along with countless student and guest artist programming. This model is unusual for the complexity of our department. Therefore, I’m focusing on succession planning and cultivating future leaders within our faculty. I’d like our future chair/producers to walk into an infrastructure that will support vision rather than having to create an infrastructure.
Getting personal with Linda…
Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to do what you are doing now?
So many people!! Obviously my kids, my husband and my mom are huge on the list, always and forever. Two mentors from grad school (Mark and Dennis) are still my mentors 20 years later! Hope I can be that kind of mentor.
But honestly, I find inspiration in so many places: the student who survived cancer and was back in the classroom, the freshman who was brave enough to come up and introduce themselves in the first week of classes and their enthusiasm to start this new chapter into adulthood, the single parent coming back for their masters despite pressures telling them not to, the retired faculty whose wisdom buoys me up when I’m trying to solve a problem.
The people who inspired me to do what I do now is the drama therapist who helped me as a very young child find my voice and confidence, the teachers who believed in me, and my colleagues who believe in me now and who have been incredibly supportive during this time of transition.
What surprising lessons have you learned along your journey? What’s the best advice you ever received?
Heh heh…how about best advice that I’ve received that are life long lessons to learn?
- You get what you tolerate
- Be kind, you never know where someone has been
- Don’t compare your first chapter to someone’s tenth chapter
- Seek first to understand and then to be understood
How do you structure your days? How do you balance work and family demands? (Is this too personal?)
This is not too personal at all. I’ve actually thought about writing an article about this facet of our lives in Theatre. The work-life balance shifts over your life. It was different from when my kids were toddlers to their teenage years now. However some are the same.
- Pay yourself first: not just money-wise, but with your time, love, and energy.
- Carpe-diem: you only live once
- Morning is Magnificent: I get up at 4:45am every day and have created a ritual to ensure I never start the day with dread, fear or unhappiness. It is not easy, especially during the darkest times of life (a family death, illness etc), but it is worth it and it helps me to pay-it-forward.
Getting advice from Linda…
What tools do you find indispensable for accomplishing anything in the Theatre industry?
My mantra for students is “Be Brave, Bloom, and Be Kind”. I live by this mantra and it stems from my experience with the hard knocks of this industry. Integrity, curiosity, self-discipline, drive: Write a mission statement so you explore why you are doing what you are doing…it will ground you.
What do you find are the biggest stumbling blocks for a career in Theatre, and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?
I’ve come to realize that there are people who drive their career by feeling competitive with others and they end up selling themselves and that is so disrespectful to oneself. It is important that people only compete against themselves and find reward in bettering their own work and their intelligence. Not compromising their integrity by just doing something to be better than someone else. I find always comparing and competing with others is not a sign of a deep-thinking artist and is a wasted life. It’s better when used in happy and meaningful endeavors.
Always, always focus on something bigger than oneself.
In this industry, we are endlessly being critiqued for so many factors. What’s your best advice for handling criticism?
As I mentioned above, there are still those who are always compelled to compete against others and our industry tends to enable that through the criticism. Be open to advice, mentorship, and evaluation from trusted and respected sources.
When I was 17 I had my first professional gig. After casting I was told I was too fat by two of my acting professors. I was 5’6 and 125 pounds of muscle. Yeah, that was rough on a 17 year old and led to bulimia. This is why I have my mantra for students: “Be Brave, Bloom and Be Kind”.
The first response I have when getting criticism is ‘consider the source’. Who is giving you the criticism and how did they give that criticism? If the criticism is from a valued individual in a dignified and respectful tone, than I should listen. A true mentor/teacher gives criticism to help direct and guide an artist/student to a better place, not to demean, belittle or harm.
When criticism is given in a callous, flippant, sarcastic or hurtful manner the criticism is not worth your time. I ignore it and move on. Nobody has time for that.
I paraphrase the Dalai Lama: “If you cannot be kind, at least do no harm.”
Interview by Christin Eve Cato, MFA Playwright Candidate 2021.