While the rest of us kick back during a lazy summer, Cincinnati-based actress Dale Hodges is at work honing her craft. That might surprise some local theatergoers, who already think of her as one of our region’s best theater professionals; if Hodges is onstage with a Cincinnati theater, it’s a sure bet that audiences will show up to watch. But she’s not above learning how to be even better.
From July 13-20, Hodges will join nine other veteran regional actors in Wisconsin for the 2014 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program. They’ll be led by actor David Hyde Pierce in a weeklong master class and immersion experience at Ten Chimneys, the historic estate of theater legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. (One of Hodges’ fellow actors will be Angel Desai, whom Cincinnati Playhouse audiences might recall as spunky Marta in its 2006 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, a production that went on to a Tony Award-winning Broadway run.)
“What a gift this is — a chance to retreat and recharge, to connect with and learn from a diverse group of accomplished actors, and to remind ourselves, through Alfred and Lynn, of the theatrical lineage we all share,” Hyde Pierce says, describing the week in Wisconsin on the Ten Chimney’s website. The program, established in 2009, annually brings top regional actors from across America to Ten Chimneys together with a renowned master teacher such as 2009’s Lynn Redgrave and 2013’s Alan Alda.
I interviewed Hodges in 2002 when the League of Cincinnati Theatres inducted her into its Hall of Fame. She told me she’d much prefer to be earning an “I Hung in There” award. That’s precisely what she has continued to do.
Since settling here in 1988, she’s been a regular on local stages.
Cincinnati Playhouse audiences know her from numerous productions of A Christmas Carol as well as shows as varied as The Piano Teacher, Witness for the Prosecution, The Retreat from Moscow, The Crucible, Ten Little Indians, The Importance of Being Earnest, Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Equus. Whether it’s comedy (she was a hilarious Indian in The Fantasticks in 2010) or drama (as the poignant Fool in King Lear in 2001), she excels. Among her most memorable performances is the imperious academic, Dr. Vivian Bearing, a scholar with expertise in the complex sonnets of poet John Donne who must face her own mortality, in the Playhouse’s 2000 production of Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Wit.
At Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, Hodges has appeared in shows including 33 Variations, Grey Gardens, Bed Among the Lentils, Seascape and, recently, Mrs. Mannerly. For Cincinnati Shakespeare Company she played the drug-addicted Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, as well as an array of Shakespearean roles. She’s worked with Cincinnati Opera and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Born in England, Hodges did some theater as a teenager, but it was three years with an amateur dramatic group in South Africa that led her toward a career onstage. She returned to England for three years at a London drama school then came to the United States in 1971.
She found work in New York City and joined the professional union, Actors’ Equity. In 1974, she and her American husband relocated to Cincinnati for a few years while he attended school. When the marriage ended, she returned to New York with her young son, Hugh, who was born in Cincinnati. Life as a single mom presented challenges for the young actress, but Hodges flourished, finding supporting roles and understudying assignments that fit her lifestyle; she loved New York City. But it wasn’t forever: “I knew I didn’t want to grow old in New York,” she says. After a seven-year courtship, she married David Logan, an old acquaintance from Cincinnati, and moved here permanently.
Hodges is something of an activist, although she doesn’t see herself as political in the common sense of the term. But she believes that keeping people’s imaginations alive is a political act.
“Live theater,” she says, “has a greater capacity to do that than other art forms, perhaps because of the collusion between performer and audience.”
In 2002 Hodges was grateful for her career — and eager for more. She has constantly sought the chance to make her performing “more human, more universal, easier to understand.” Back in 2002, she told me, “All I want to do is work.” And work she has. So she’s off to Wisconsin to learn about being even better. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: firstname.lastname@example.org