A native of Gary, Ind., Rebecca Guy earned a B.F.A. in theater from the University of Evansville before studying at Juilliard, where she graduated as a member of Group 7. Guy served as artistic director of the Chautauqua Conservatory Theater Co. from 1988 to 2004. She has also been artistic associate at the Ark Theater Company and conservatory director at CSC Repertory Co. (both in New York), and has served as a guest director at Sundance Institute, Opera Theater of Rochester, Circle in the Square Theater School, Sarah Lawrence College, and Yale, among others. She teaches acting and directing at the Barnard/Columbia theater department, and has been a Juilliard faculty member since 1994.
Who was the teacher or mentor who most inspired you when you were growing up and what did you learn from that person?
Elizabeth Ennis, my high school drama teacher. She introduced me to all aspects of theater, and to the idea that I could do anything I put my mind to. She also taught me about the importance of a disciplined work ethic, of keeping my ego in check, and about communal responsibility. We’re still very close.
When did you first know you wanted to be in the theater profession, and how did you come to know it?
When I was in high school. Once I discovered theater, it immediately became clear that it was the only thing I wanted to do—the only thing I could completely lose myself in. I loved becoming other people, and telling stories. I love stories; I tried writing, but I didn’t seem to have any stories of my own to tell. Discovering that I could tell someone else’s story was life-changing. This realization came to me when I played Frankie Adams in The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers.
What theatrical performance have you attended that changed the way you think about theater?
Oh gee! Recently, Complicite’s production of The Chairs. And The Greeks, Part I, at Juilliard two years ago. When I was a teenager, I saw a production of Shaw’s St. Joan starring Pat Galloway at the Stratford Festival in Canada that completely changed my idea of what acting could be. Any production that reveals a way of thinking, an imaginative process that is new and mysterious to me, is always exciting.
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had as a performer?
How many examples would you like? Last summer I misspelled the word “Constitution” on a large blackboard during the only performance of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and starring Brian Murray, Michael Emerson, and the incomparable Gabe Ebert. In front of 5,000 people. It was delayed humiliation, as I had no idea I’d misspelled it until well after the performance; I was just so pleased I’d finally managed to get it to fit nicely on the blackboard: CONSTUTION.
If you could have your students visit any place in the world, where would it be, and why?
Anywhere they haven’t been, anyplace they don’t know about, in order to experience what is unfamiliar: geography, architecture, history, art, culture, etc.—to discover different ways of thinking, of being in the world.
What are your non-drama related interests or hobbies? What would people be surprised to know about you?
Gardening, although I seem to be an eternal novice. Reading. Animals. Weather. People might be surprised to hear that I’m extremely shy.
If your students could only remember one thing from your teaching, what would you want it to be? Or how has your teaching changed over the years?
Approach everything with curiosity, discipline, and generosity; the rest will follow. And, go further than you think you need to—with curiosity. More experience teaching has brought less certitude and more openness, I hope.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
Just about everything. It’s mostly about the variety of experiences the city offers; it’s like no other American city in that regard. Particularly, coming from the Midwest, the food.
What book are you reading right now, and what can you tell us about it?
Telex From Cuba, a novel by Rachel Kushner, focuses on the lives of the American population in 1950s Cuba before the Castro revolution. Fascinating, and very well written. Next on my list is Thames, the Biography, by Peter Ackroyd.
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
Training therapy dogs or working at the Weather Channel.