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The 'Show Boat' Experience

Theatre professor reflects on first foray into the opera world

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March 1, 2012 | by Matt Paolelli

Associate professor Cindy Gold never dreamed she would be onstage at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. A veteran actress and director of the stage and screen, Gold serves as the head of acting at Northwestern University’s School of Communication. Opera is decidedly not in her job description.

But when the Lyric announced an uncharacteristic new American musical-theater initiative and put out a casting call for a production of “Show Boat,” Gold’s agent urged her to audition for a part that played to her strengths as a comedic actor. She won the role of Parthy, whom Gold describes as the “nasty” wife of the show boat’s Captain Andy.

For someone involved in theatre education, Gold said she has learned much from the new experience of working in an operatic production.

“I’ve never played to a house this big,” she said. “Most of my scenes are with Captain Andy, and yet he’s 50 feet away from me. It’s been a lot of learning for me at this point in my life, which is strange, but I’ve had to learn how to be real and truthful in a very large place.”

Gold said connections to Northwestern are ever-present in the theatre world, but the connection is even more explicit in the “Show Boat” production. A painted backdrop of the Chicago skyline that appears in the second act of the production features a building that reads “Northwestern University” in giant print.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘How did you work that in?’” she said. “But I didn’t even realize it was there until somebody pointed it out.”

Gold is balancing the production schedule with her teaching responsibilities and said the theatre department stresses that “one should do what one teaches.” Through the support of her colleagues, Gold has remained active in the theatre and said she brings lessons back to the classroom from every role she plays.

“I think I’m a better teacher for being an actress, and I know I’m a better actress for being a teacher,” she said. “I don’t think I could ever do one or the other. I would have to always do both.”