Caldwell, N.J., March 24, 2015 – Actress Beth Fowler is thrilled for Caldwell University students. “You are here now, inheriting what has been before. You can’t get rid of that thing. You are with good people,” she said before a packed house of students, alumni, faculty, staff and administration on Caldwell’s campus. Fowler knows about that “thing,” the fabric of Caldwell University. “I’m a great champion of a liberal arts education,” she says, recalling her experience as a music student at Caldwell College for Women. The sisters saw the talents she had, and it was a “warm, welcoming experience here … with a lot of mothers who were sisters.”
Fowler visited Caldwell on March 11 for the Veritas Lecture Series, a question-and-answer session moderated by Professor Bob Mann, chairman of the Communication Arts Department.
A performer on Broadway, in Hollywood and on television, Fowler stars as Sister Ingalls in the Netflix original series “Orange Is the New Black” for which she and her fellow cast members received the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
She is perhaps best known for her more than a dozen roles on Broadway, where she has been nominated twice for a Tony award—in “The Boy from Oz,” opposite Hugh Jackman, and as Mrs. Lovett in the 1989 revival of “Sweeney Todd.” She originated the role of Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” in New York and Los Angeles, where she won the Ovation Award.
But acting was not Fowler’s original goal. She came to Caldwell College intending to enter the convent, but life took a different direction and she taught grammar school after college.
Fowler recalled how she started with community theater and went to an open call two years later. “There were many, many, many small jobs where I had to leave home and do regional work,” she said of her acting career. She lived at home until age 35 when she married John Witham, also an actor. Fowler knew her college degree could help her in lean times. “I had skills. I used to say, ‘I could always go back to teaching.’”
“Every profession, if you want to succeed has its own difficulties,” she said. For those who want to pursue acting, “I would admonish you to be aware you have to do something else to fill in the blanks.”
Asked to name her role model, Fowler she has been very blessed to have a number of people who inspired her. “There are special people in this world.” One person who never let her down was Hugh Jackman, “a wonderful, good person, always genuine, never ‘on,’” she said.
“There are wonderful people in my business and there are terrible people in my business, but I don’t have anything to do with them,” Fowler said.
Since Caldwell University’s mission is Veritas and the pursuit of truth, “What is it that an actor can bring to the pursuit of truth?” asked Professor Mann. “An actor reflects humanity and lets the audiences see themselves,” responded Fowler.
She is proud to be a “Caldwell College slash University” alum, she said, and had seen how the liberal arts had benefited her life and her career. “Everyone’s life is informed by culture,” and the humanities have “got to be informing every technical class you take,” she told the students.
Fowler was also grateful for the influence of the sisters. Acknowledging Sister Doris Ann Bowles, her high school teacher at St. Mary’s High School in Rutherford, who was in the audience, Fowler said Sister was the only acting teacher she ever had. Sister knew Fowler was terrified of giving speeches, but also knew she was family-oriented. The sister told her, “Just remember every audience you will encounter is somebody’s daughter, son, mother, father, grandfather, etc.” Clearly, the encouragement paid off.
For Caldwell University students like Melanie Negron, a junior, it was inspiring to hear Fowler’s remarks. “All her stories were hilarious, and it was good to hear the backside of being an actor,” said Negron, who is in the choir and the band. She was “candid and honest,” said Naomi Touchstone, a freshman who is also in the choir.
Senior Angela Cirillo said Fowler’s remarks resonated with her since she is studying to be a teacher and is also a performer. “Even with a passion for kids, you can still be a performer. I like teaching and love singing and bringing the excitement for theater to the classroom…plus, she represents the Music Department (as an alum) very well,” she said.
Professor Mann ran the interview on the Sirius XM Satellite Radio show “Let’s Consider the Source,” that he hosts on SiriusXM Insight.
This event was made possible, in part, by the generosity of individual donors with special thanks to Kathleen Galop, Esq. ’68, whose donation helped launch this series in 2014 and will continue to support future lectures.
The Veritas Lecture Series was commissioned in 2014 as a way to provide the Caldwell University community with an opportunity to engage with Veritas Awardees, some of the university’s most distinguished alumni. Fowler received a Veritas award in 1986.
The Veritas Awards, established in honor of the Dominican Sisters who founded and administered Caldwell College, celebrate the professional excellence of alumni. Awardees are selected by an independent committee of alumni. Those who receive the award are chosen based on their fulfillment of the following criteria in their lives and careers:
To seek VERITAS – truth.
To develop and mature in the philosophy inscribed on the seal of Caldwell University and experienced on the Caldwell campus: SAPIENTIA ET SCIENTIA – WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE.
To achieve in a chosen profession: integrity, application, perseverance, accomplishment.
To give of self to family, friends and society.
To be identified as a leader by associates and community.