John Lithgow calls Yellow Springs ‘a fabulous place to grow up’

Actor John Lithgow grew up in Yellow Springs.
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Actor John Lithgow grew up in Yellow Springs.

Actor will make a virtual appearance during Antioch gala that’s honoring his father and others

My passion for live theater can be traced back to childhood in the 1950s when our family would pile into the car on a pretty summer night and head to Yellow Springs for a top-notch production at the renowned Antioch Shakespeare Festival, also known as Shakespeare Under the Stars.

The names I most remember from those years were Arthur Lithgow and Meredith Dallas, the Antioch College theater professors who co-founded the festival. They gathered actors from throughout the country and the company tackled every single Shakespeare play.

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Among the young professionals who came in on the train from New York, were Nancy Marchand, Earle Hyman, Laurence Luckinbill, Ellis Rabb, and Kelton Garwood. The notable Ann Roth designed costumes.

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John Lithgow, shown in his kindergarten photo, considers Yellow Springs his hometown. COURTESY OF JOHN LITHGOW

John Lithgow, shown in his kindergarten photo, considers Yellow Springs his hometown. COURTESY OF JOHN LITHGOW
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John Lithgow, shown in his kindergarten photo, considers Yellow Springs his hometown. COURTESY OF JOHN LITHGOW

“Arthur came to this massive project with Shakespeare alive in every corpuscle in him; he knew Shakespeare like George Snell knew Beethoven,” says Tony Dallas, Meredith’s son, a writer and director who still lives in Yellow Springs.

Dallas and Lithgow are among the inspiring professors being honored at “Antioch Under the Stars,” a virtual gala benefit slated for Saturday, Jan. 23. Proceeds will support Antioch College Works, a program that provides full-tuition scholarships to Pell Grant-eligible students as well as campus and community employment while students study at the college.

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John Lithgow as Sir Winston Churchill in Netflix's "The Crown." CONTRIBUTED/ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX

John Lithgow as Sir Winston Churchill in Netflix's "The Crown." CONTRIBUTED/ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX
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John Lithgow as Sir Winston Churchill in Netflix's "The Crown." CONTRIBUTED/ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX

Credit: CONTRIBUTED/ALEX BAILEY/NETFLIX

The featured attraction will be Arthur Lithgow’s son, John Lithgow, the Emmy-, Grammy-, and Tony Award-winning actor, most recently heralded for his role as Winston Churchill in “The Crown’ and for his one-man Broadway show, “Stories by Heart,” which focuses on his father. John Lithgow is also an accomplished artist and writer. In addition to sharing memories of his childhood in Yellow Springs, he’ll do readings from alumni and his own humorous book of poems, “Trumpty Dumpty.”

Theatrical composer and actor Peter Ekstrom, class of 1973, will serve as master of ceremonies. Attendees will begin the night socializing in virtual “bars” named after iconic Yellow Springs hangouts. Later, alumni and friends of the college can celebrate and reminisce about the Antioch faculty and staff who nurtured and inspired them to “win victories for humanity.”

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John Lithgow (far left) portrayed Mustardseed in an Antioch Shakespeare festival production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” PHOTO COURTESY OF THE YELLOW SPRINGS NEWS

Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF THE YELLOW SPRINGS NEWS

John Lithgow (far left) portrayed Mustardseed in an Antioch Shakespeare festival production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” PHOTO COURTESY OF THE YELLOW SPRINGS NEWS
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John Lithgow (far left) portrayed Mustardseed in an Antioch Shakespeare festival production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” PHOTO COURTESY OF THE YELLOW SPRINGS NEWS

Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF THE YELLOW SPRINGS NEWS

Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF THE YELLOW SPRINGS NEWS

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“Our inaugural gala — Antioch Under the Stars — speaks wonderfully to the ongoing power of this college to convene a community of creative possibilities,” says Antioch College President Emeritus Tom Manley. “What more fitting place to start than with the Shakespeare productions performed on the main lawn years ago; and who better to lead the celebration than the great actor John Lithgow, who spent many years of his childhood under those very stars.”

We had the opportunity to ask Lithgow about his childhood and career as an actor.

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Q: In your autobiography, “Drama: An Actor’s Education,” you write that Yellow Springs is the place you consider your “hometown.” Can you share a few memories of the years you spent there?

A: I moved away from Yellow Springs with my family the summer after sixth grade but, yes, I i still consider it my hometown. It was a fabulous place to grow up, a combination of Midwestern small town life, Bohemian funkiness, and political radicalism in the middle of the Ohio countryside.

I went back for a big family reunion a few years ago and, just as I’d heard over the years, it felt like it hadn’t changed a bit, like a fly in amber. I loved it.

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Actor John Lithgow, who grew up in Yellow Springs, said his father read to him constantly. COURTESY OF JOHN LITHGOW

Actor John Lithgow, who grew up in Yellow Springs, said his father read to him constantly. COURTESY OF JOHN LITHGOW
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Actor John Lithgow, who grew up in Yellow Springs, said his father read to him constantly. COURTESY OF JOHN LITHGOW

Q: Storytelling in your family was passed down through your father, correct?

A: Oh he read to us. Constantly! From “The Jungle Book,” “Treasure Island,” a fat volume of short stories by great authors called “Tellers of Tales,” bright orange volumes of kid lit called Childcraft, and (our favorites) the comics in, yes, the Dayton Daily News.

I don’t recall him making up any stories but, hey, he produced every single one of Shakespeare’s plays! We saw them all, appeared in a few of them, and spent hours watching rehearsals! There’s no better storytelling than that.

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Q: What do you think it was about Shakespeare that captivated your dad when he first read the complete plays? How would you recommend parents and grandparents today introduce children to Shakespeare?

A: I think my dad was kind of a bookish loner as a kid in Boston. He describes his first encounter with Shakespeare at about age 15 as like “catching a disease.” He was obsessed and read the whole canon from start to finish. Who does that!

About 90 years ago, the English writer E. Nesbit wrote a terrific introduction for children: “Stories from Shakespeare.” It was a simple retelling of the plots of eight or 10 of his plays. It was reprinted a few years ago with gorgeous illustrations. (“Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children”) That’s my recommendation (and not just because I wrote the foreword).

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John Lithgow with his sister Robin and brother David. PHOTO BY GERALD HOMBEIN

John Lithgow with his sister Robin and brother David. PHOTO BY GERALD HOMBEIN
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John Lithgow with his sister Robin and brother David. PHOTO BY GERALD HOMBEIN

Q: Your grandfather died in the 1918 pandemic. How has that affected your feelings about the current pandemic?

A: My grandfather’s death from the Spanish flu in 1918 has always haunted me, probably because my dad was only four at the time and grew up without a father. And yes, that fact deepens my feelings of melancholy at this whole tragic disaster.

Q: What do you love about being an actor?

A: That’s a short question that requires a very long answer. There’s no way to briefly describe the thrill of connecting with an audience. Making them laugh, cry, or scream in terror is a rush that really nothing else can equal. I’m not exaggerating.

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Actor John Lithgow will be featured at the upcoming Antioch College Gala. PHOTO BY ROBERT ZUCKERMAN

Actor John Lithgow will be featured at the upcoming Antioch College Gala. PHOTO BY ROBERT ZUCKERMAN
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Actor John Lithgow will be featured at the upcoming Antioch College Gala. PHOTO BY ROBERT ZUCKERMAN

Q: What will you be doing at the upcoming gala evening for Antioch and why are you participating?

A: I’m just showing up to pay tribute and celebrate the school and its unique philosophy of educating young people. I’m so grateful for my connection to the place which goes all the way back to the four years I spent, right through fourth grade, at the college’s lab school, The Antioch School. Oh, and, being an entertainer, I may read a few poems from my recent smartass book of poems about Donald Trump.

Q. What advice do you have to those who dream of becoming actors?

A: First, I always tell young actors to focus on theater and let movies and TV come later. Onstage is where you learn your strengths as an actor, plus discipline and sense of ensemble.

Second, I always urge them to pursue creative outlets that are all your own and don’t depend on other people hiring you: write, learn an instrument, take singing or dance lessons (learn to tap!). Devise projects of your own which aim for an actual product: write, produce, or direct something in a workshop or with friends. It will probably never happen but if it doesn’t, the reason may well be that someone has hired you to act!


HOW TO GO

What: Antioch Under the Stars, a virtual gala benefit, featuring actor John Lithgow

When: Saturday, Jan. 23, from 8-10 p.m.

Tickets: $100. Premium tickets and sponsorships also include a special party pack mailed to the attendee prior to the event. Deadline for ticket sales is Monday, Jan. 18.

For information and reservations: antiochcollege.edu

ANTIOCH AT A GLANCE

What: Antioch College

Where: One Morgan Place, Yellow Springs

Enrollment: 116 full-time degree-seeking students (fall of 2020)

More info: 937-767-1286 or info@antiochcollege.edu

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