Story by Erin Hallissy
Photo by Allyson Wiley
Students in Carol Lashof's Shakespeare class don't need to be great actors, but they do have to perform a scene from a play, whether they're nervous or not. "I don't grade them on their acting, but I use performances as a means into understanding the plays," she says.
Lashof has taught composition, children's lit, British lit, playwriting, Seminar and other courses in the undergraduate and MFA Creative Writing programs at Saint Mary's since 1983, but her first love is theater. She wrote her first play in 1978; "if we don't count the fourth-grade project, which was a group project."
Her own plays, which include The Melting Pot, The Minotaur, Nora's Daughter, Medusa's Tale and Persephone Underground, draw on old stories, especially Greek myths, not surprising given the emphasis on classics at SMC.
"Our ideas about men and women and humanism come from many of these Greek stories," she says in her office in Dante Hall, where an award from the Academic Honor Council for "most considerate" professor is on a shelf. "Greek myths are based in conflicts that have a lot of contemporary resonance. They're great stories."
Lashof says students "love approaching the plays through performance, and they understand the plays better as a result." Mary Volmer '01, MFA '05, recalls the experience of acting in class as "scary and exciting," and calls Lashof a great teacher and mentor.
"She has a passion for student writing," says Volmer, now teaching at SMC, who studied playwriting during an independent study Jan Term course with Lashof. Volmer, whose book, Crown of Dust, was published in Britain this summer, says "I learned a lot about dialogue, with how little it takes to be dramatic, from her."
Lashof lives in Berkeley with her husband, Bill Newton, a UC administrator, and their daughters Elisabeth, 18, and Erica, 14, who share Lashof's love of theater and enjoy going to plays at the Berkeley Rep, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and other locales. Lashof is very involved in Berkeley High, and has long volunteered at her daughters' schools.
Lashof, who has a bachelor's from UC Santa Barbara, where Elisabeth is now studying physics, was hired at SMC right after earning a doctorate in modern thought and literature from Stanford. "My preference was to be at a small liberal arts college with an emphasis on teaching," she says. Young and idealistic, she said by the second semester she had a brush with reality.
"I thought that the students would all be there for love," she says with a wistful smile. "I was very idealistic. Now, I'm still idealistic, but I have a fall-back plan. So, I take attendance."