The first time Linda Elyse Bryce met Gary Maker, she was helping to run a program called “The Angels” for Shakespeare Theatre Company. The Angels recruited Shakespeare subscribers and donors to help introduce Shakespeare’s interns and fellows to the nation’s capital. Gary and his partner, the late Paul Desmarais, were among the first to volunteer.
“What impressed me,” about the man for whom DC Theatre Scene’s audience award is named, “was that virtually every day one of them would post a review of some show they had seen on their e-mail – sending an e-mail out to the Angels list.” This word-of-machine publicity, Bryce said, helped make her aware of DC’s burgeoning small theater scene.
The Gary Maker Award Committee today announced that Bryce, whose name was proposed by the commedia dell’Arte troupe Faction of Fools, would receive the third annual Gary Maker Award for audience members.
Bryce is no Linda-come-lately to the world of audience support. The Fools nominated her for the Maker Award in 2012, and Shakespeare Theatre Company did so in 2011.
In nominating Bryce two years ago, STC’s Lindsay Tolar noted, “She is well known by virtually every member of the staff because she attends everything! It is very rare for an event to occur that Linda hasn’t had a hand in, whether that is helping to get the word out to the public, arranging flowers, preparing food, handing out programs or attending as a patron to show her support.”
Two years later, Rachel Spicknall Mulford said much the same on behalf of the Faction of Fools:
“She has been at nearly every show we have produced…Linda never comes to the theatre alone, though. She has brought dozens and dozens of friends and family members, including her own children and grandchildren. From our first performance…Linda has brought groups of people to us, talking us up before the show and encouraging them to return on their own for performance after performance after performance.”
Two years ago, Tolar revealed that Bryce hosted a welcome basket and first rehearsal breakfast for new productions – continuing a tradition begun by her mother, Marion Bryce. Indeed, our Gary Maker Award winner admits to a familial disposition to love of theater.
“My mother was an actor, my grandmother was an opera singer,” Bryce recounts. “The family was dramatic.” When Marion Bryce was in college in Pittsburgh, she and her brother would sing on KDKA radio, her daughter says.
Linda Bryce was nine when she moved with her family from Pittsburgh to Washington. It was…love, eventually. “I loved Pittsburgh but DC is…super,” she says. Washington was, at the time, a bit of a cultural backwater, but the Bryce family exploited every opportunity for theater they could find. She recalls concerts at the Watergate, and watching touring Shakespeare productions. Theater became part of the fabric of her life.
“When I first started dating, it was normal for me to go to Arena Stage, which was really a startup then, and the National Theater.” The man she married, she said, was part of the family that built the Warner Theatre…before it became the Warner Theatre.
And the family tradition continues. Her daughter, a Florida business executive specializing in visas and passports, was at one time an actor. And her son, a professor at Pennsylvania’s Albright College, returns faithfully to DC with his wife to see every STC production.
Early on, she made a cold-blooded assessment of her own talents and decided she was best suited for… audience member. “I knew pretty early on that I was not going to be a singer or an actor,” she admits. She became a teacher at the Eleanor Roosevelt School for the Sciences. “The science and technology students, because of their packed schedules, did their theater and music before and after school. So I sponsored music theater and when the young woman who started the Shakespeare performance group left I stepped in on a temporary basis.” The temporary period in which she led the Eleanor Roosevelt Shakespeare group was nine years.
Her work with her students was an extension of her own theatergoing practices. “Theater for me is a habit,” she says. “I’ve never been as interested in going to movies or watching television because they don’t have the dynamism of live performances.”
She goes to theater at least once a week during the season – the Shakespeare Theatre, Arena (“I probably see five or six shows a year at Arena”), Signature, In Series, Rorschach, Synetic. “I read a review, or I have a friend saw it or I want to see it and I go.” She goes to the annual Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Ontario. “I can’t break myself of that habit. Every year I say ‘it’s really expensive. I shouldn’t be doing this.’ And then I do it anyway.”
She is a Shakespeare enthusiast who seeks out new experiences even when she has doubts about them. “One of the most memorable was a play I never really much cared for – Love’s Labor’s Lost. Michael Kahn set it in the summer of love in India. It was fabulous. It was one of the best experiences I ever had, volunteering at the Free-for-All (the Shakespeare Theatre’s annual free production). Every night kids were coming alive – discovering that hey, they kind of like Shakespeare.”
She considers a good performance to be its own reward. “Nancy Robinette blew me away in the American Museum of American Art doing a cold reading of a one-woman play about Julia Childs,” Bryce remembers. “Floyd King, I love…Sarah Marshall, Ed Gero. We have so many terrific actors in this town.”
And then there’s the Faction of Fools.
“I had volunteered for and supported the Academy for Classical Acting,” a degree-granting collaboration between STC and George Washington University, Bryce says. While at one of its productions, she met Matt Wilson, soon to become Faction of Fools Artistic Director.
“He had just gotten back from Italy, where he was doing commedia. He invited me and (fellow volunteer) Nancy (McCade) to see his one-man commedia epic. We fell in love with his commedia, and the idea of reviving the oldest professional European acting style was so exciting that we just had to help.”
It is requited love. “Linda has brought groups of people to us, talking us up before the show and encouraging them to return on their own for performance after performance after performance,” Mulford notes. “Her dedication has shown through in so many…important ways.
The Fools cite “the energy and encouragement she has provided to get our first two galas off the ground. These fundraising nights were successful in large part to Linda. From gathering props from other theaters around town to arranging flowers on her dining room table, her efforts have demonstrated an enthusiasm for theatre that is next-to-impossible to match in this theatre-loving town.”
“Linda’s matchless energy and open heart were big reasons she won this award,” says Lorraine Treanor, DC Theatre Scene editor/publisher and Chair of the Gary Maker Award Committee. “We were impressed with how her selflessness affected everyone from her family to her community, and it made it possible to choose her from among a very credentialed field of nominees.” Other finalists were Barbara Bear (nominated by Signature Theatre Company and No Rules Theatre Company) and Bob Hebda (nominated by Adventure Theatre/MTC).
Bryce’s prop-gathering chops will be on display at the Faction of Fools’ production of Moliere’s Don Juan, which will run from September 12 to October 6. (Gallaudet University’s Elstad Auditorium, 800 Florida Avenue NE). Perhaps you’ll see them on Saturday, September 14, when she receives her Gary Maker award – a beautiful hand-crafted sculpture by glass artist Teddi Hathaway – and a year’s subscription to the Faction of Fools.
As for the award recipient, she still has work to do. “I’ve been using my computer to get to a wider audience to promote the smaller companies – like dog and pony dc, who I love,” she reveals. “I can at least forward their publicity. The computer gives me an opportunity to be more in touch with more people who are interested in the same thing.”
Really, Linda? Using computer lists to send information about theater to people who want to know about it? Like people who used to be on the old Angels list?
Does that sound like anybody we know?
For more on the Award itself, and previous recipients, visit the home page for the Gary Maker Audience Award.