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Mary Lindroth: Bringing Students From the Page to the Stage

Mary Lindroth, professor of English Department, teaching her students on a class.

Dr. Mary Lindroth is passionate about attending theater, dance and the movies. She is equally enthusiastic about bringing the performing arts into her courses. “Everything I know comes from what I’ve read, what I’ve seen on stage; that’s where I learn and I take that back into the classroom,” says Lindroth, professor of English. “In order to teach something, you have to be willing to do that something, so I’m a consummate audience member.”

Most weekends Lindroth hops the train to New York City to attend on- and off- Broadway plays, and ballet and modern dance performances. On her trip home, she often ponders how she can bring alive what she has just experienced to help her students develop their talents.

The English Department offers three performance classes: Great Drama and Performance, Shakespeare and Performance, and Modern Drama and Performance, and Lindroth has taught all of them. She has also taught just about every other English course from Freshman Writing and Shakespeare to Women’s Studies and Literature for English majors and non-majors.

Her style of teaching is focused on guiding students to learn about themselves, says alumna Eya Haddouche ’17, who received a Bachelor of Arts in English. “She would say, ‘I want it to come from you, not from me.’ That is a huge part of her ethic as a teacher.”

When Lindroth introduces performance to students who are initially shy or reticent, she works hard to help them feel comfortable on stage and to tap into their interests. “Instead of saying, ‘You don’t have these skills,’ I say, ‘You do have them. They are just buried. Let’s bring them to the fore so that if you need them, you can call on them,’” says Lindroth. When she asks students to take part in a performance exercise, she knows she has to model it first. “So if I’m willing to risk it and go out of my comfort zone, they should as well.” “I was that shy student,” said Haddouche. “She uses her experiences to get her students to come out of their shells.”

Lindroth’s classroom is a place where students discover how the printed words from a play can come off the page into a performance. “For example, we will take Cinderella and look at the story and then look at the way the dancers perform it and what goes into it.”

Each time Lindroth teaches a drama course it becomes clearer to her how important performance experiences are for her students’ futures, no matter what they are majoring in. She is gratified to hear from alumni who tell her how beneficial an introduction to acting has been for them. She points to data showing employers are looking for people who can write, communicate, and present themselves.

Lindroth sees similarities between standing up in front of a class and being on stage. Even though she has been teaching for many years, like any good performer, she still “gets a little nervous” before she enters her stage, the classroom. That is when she draws on advice from her mother, Colette Lindroth, beloved professor emerita of English, who taught at Caldwell for over 50 years. “My mother always talks about it as a high-wire act. You cannot think about what you are doing before you go in. You just have to do it, and if you start looking down, you are going to lose your concentration, lose your focus and perhaps fall, but if you just go in and do it without thinking about it, then it becomes something else.”

And that ‘something else’ often means helping her students see how their classroom content relates to the world around them. “I say, ‘Here’s the conversation that is being had right now’… whether it is the #MeToo movement or the anti-gun-violence marches” or other issues, she connects the discipline of English to the culture.

When Lindroth was a child, her desire for knowledge was fostered by watching her mother and her father, Dr. James Lindroth, a longtime English professor at Seton Hall University. Her parents were constantly learning; they surrounded themselves with books, always attended the theater, “read all the newspapers and were going to all kinds of (news) outlets.” Hearing her parents’ conversations about books was a “mini-course,” and she gravitated toward that, always wanting to learn more. But teaching English was not Lindroth’s first career choice. “I went into history to forge a route of my own.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in history from Caldwell, Lindroth worked in a law office, thought about law school and did fundraising for Carnegie Hall. But the pull toward English won out, and she earned her M.A. in that discipline from the University of Iowa. A doctorate followed, also in English, at the same institution. “I’m a humanities person through and through. None of these disciplines are discrete or separate. They are all interconnected.” Her dissertation focused on Shakespeare and the Renaissance because she wanted to study something she might not have read on her own. Pointing out that film is a part of the humanities, she appreciates “the wonderful opportunity” of attending the Saturday morning movie screenings in New York City hosted by Professor John Yurko for the Media Educators Association. “The films he gets and the directors he interviews enrich my life. “What makes me know that I’m alive is being part of theater, dance and film experiences.”

Lindroth was chair of Caldwell’s English Department for nine years and worked on a number of committees including the Faculty Council and the Prioritization Committee when President Nancy Blattner arrived at the university. “For me, committee work is important, who is on the committee (is important) and having a chance to work with colleagues on something that will get implemented is worthwhile.”

Lindroth values having colleagues “chip in” and work as a team to help each other get work done, as when the English Department develops courses that respond to the increased interest in creative arts. “We work well together.”

She is proud of the department’s recent accomplishments including hosting an undergraduate literature conference that brought English majors from other universities and colleges to Caldwell in 2016.

In the spring, the department will introduce a new course that Lindroth created, Solo Performance, in which students will write and perform their own work. The course grew out of a sabbatical experience Lindroth had in the fall of 2017 when she attended a workshop in New York City with solo performer Tim Miller. There she and others crafted their work into solo performances that became one work performed on the stage in Manhattan.

When school is not in session Lindroth enjoys visiting her three “beloved nephews” in Colorado. When they come to New Jersey she has to impart her arts wisdom, taking them to the theater and the movies “whether they like it or not—I have that reputation,” she says with a laugh.

When the romantic drama “The Great Gatsby” came to the big screen, Lindroth took the boys and could not let the experience pass without analysis. “I say to them, ‘What was happening in the movie?’” With the print version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel in hand, she had them discuss the differences between the movie and the book. “I love spending time with them.”

Whether Lindroth is with her nephews or with a student, learning must be underpinned by humanity. “Teaching is always about focusing on the human person,” she says. “The teaching-student relationship is so important. It transcends the classroom. They are not customers or future CEOs.” Her students appreciate that Lindroth would take the time to meet one on one for rehearsal, says Haddouche. “Her criticism for papers was always focused on helping students strengthen what was already there.”

In the end, Lindroth wants her students to appreciate the ways the academic discipline of English can help them in just about every career and walk of life. “We want everyone to know what we know—that everyone should major in English.”