Profile of Virginia Haggart
A Passion for Theatre • A Heart for Education • A Call to Create
When I was a child my Grandma Virginia often took me to the Fargo / Moorhead Community Theatre. I was active in theatre in high school and decided to attend the University of Utah because of their theatre department. My parents weren’t keen on my major, because of the difficulties of making a living, so I tried different ones, but always ended up back as a theatre major. I obtained a BFA in theatre from Utah in 1980.
I did lots of performing after I graduated and supported myself by waitressing, until I broke my wrist in a rehearsal for a show. That put a real strain on my finances and I ended up doing secretarial work, back in the Theatre Department where I’d just graduated. This was humbling. The flip side, however, was that I heard about auditions and got into several shows that year—sometimes rehearsing for one show from 1-3, another from 3-5, and performing another in the evening. It was a grueling pace and finances were tight, so I lived on peanut butter sandwiches—several a day—but I LOVED performing.
I moved to Minneapolis in July 1982 to try my hand in the theatre there. I landed a 40 hour/week job at Dayton’s which gave me nights and weekends free. I also got a part from my first audition at Theatre In The Round playing Regina in Ibsen’s GHOSTS. It seemed too easy to get the first thing for which I auditioned, but the struggles would come soon enough. Although I kept auditioning, I had trouble getting into ANYTHING after that. I did get an acting tour in 1987 that was a paid job. After that tour ended I chose to stay close to home to be near the man I’d later marry.
When I became weary of the financial struggles of an artist, I decided to become a teacher. I wanted to teach theatre, but my advisor said secondary jobs were scarce and my chances for employment were better in elementary education. I got my K-6 license from Augsburg Weekend College, thinking I could teach creative dramatics to elementary students AND fulfill my creative needs.
In the fall of 1989 I began teaching at a private school, and then in 1991 got a job in the public schools. I enjoyed teaching Kindergarten, but things began to happen that spoke to my heart on a deep level.
In July 1993 when my husband and I were traveling in Alaska, I met a waiter (a theatre major) and through him reconnected with Lynette, another University of Utah theatre major I hadn’t seen in thirteen years. Lynette was working in a professional theatre company in Juneau and was very happy acting, teaching, directing. Her happiness illuminated for me that I was not doing what I loved.
In the spring of 1995 something else happened when my husband and I went to see the film BRAVEHEART, directed by and staring Mel Gibson. I was so totally bowled over by the movie’s scenery, actors, story and historical significance that I felt I HAD TO CHANGE MY LIFE. I wanted to work with creative people on movies or plays. I cried about the movie for days, and thought about it for weeks, and still when I hear the name, I feel a sense of gratitude for it being a catalyst in changing my life.
I got a part-time position teaching Drama to students in grades K-5. I thought I’d be in heaven, until I began the job and found it was very difficult to maintain any classroom control in this school. I left the supposed “dream job” at midyear to finish my master’s in education for which I am immensely proud.
Now what? I went back to teaching Kindergarten because I didn’t know what else to do. A few weeks before school started, I read in the paper that my former theatre professor was hired by the Guthrie Theater. I was in shock. The strong pull that I felt from seeing my professor in the paper was too much to ignore. I ended up calling him to ask him for a job, but he’d just gotten there himself. Because of fear and duty, I finished out that year as a teacher.
The summer of 1997 I went into a slump watching TV almost all day long. I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to go back to teaching full time, but my husband’s job was in question so I had to wait to announce my leave of absence. I didn’t realize that the TV watching was working on me at a very deep level. I was watching excellent movies, with superb acting, which were speaking to my soul.
During my leave, I dabbled in video production, doing behind the scenes make-up and production assistant duties. It was interesting but I was just fooling myself. I wanted to be acting. I began substitute teaching to pay the bills, and I did like working with students again.
I auditioned at Theatre In The Round in early 1999 (17 years after I’d done GHOSTS) and got called back. I could not believe it. I’d not been in a show since 1987. I didn’t get the part, but I began taking two intense acting classes simultaneously, and I began studying voice with Manon Gimlett at MacPhail Center for the Arts. I had a lot of changes at once, but I was still substitute teaching and that provided some financial and emotional stability.
I got into my first show, ROPE, in August 1999 and soon thereafter got into the Guthrie’s MARTIN GUERRE. Two years earlier I’d done a writing exercise and imagined myself in a long red gown on the Guthrie stage. That image actually came to fruition when I played a walk-on in MARTIN GUERRE, except the gown was black. After Christmas I began working on BURY THE DEAD which was really difficult. I wondered why the universe called me there, until I discovered another cast member worked a day job at the Science Museum. He was a presenter/actor of science-related plays and demonstrations. I told him I had auditioned there the year before. He invited me to visit the museum in May 2000. I went and was enthralled with the physical structure of the new museum and with his shows. He was the one to inform me that an actress was leaving and encouraged me to audition for the position.
I GOT THE JOB after much preparation! It was exciting work with a steep learning curve requiring much concentration and effort researching and memorizing lines for several science-related plays and demonstrations. A favorite one-woman show I did was about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female medical doctor who got her degree in 1849. I was so excited to be there doing 5-6 shows a day, five days a week. I worked at the museum about a year, and then my husband and I decided to move. The first few months after I left, I was so busy trying to sell our old house, performing in two plays back to back, raising a litter of puppies and moving into our new house that I didn’t realize how I missed getting paid to act.
I was then unemployed and trying to get back into reserve teaching, but I wasn’t being called. I kept taking voice lessons, took two musical theatre voice workshops and tried to keep moving forward. It was very hard for several months until I began to substitute on a regular basis at my old school. That was a godsend. I began to feel useful again, as if I was making a difference.
When I learned the Science Museum needed someone part-time this summer, I jumped at the chance to work there again. It will be fun to get paid for acting and to be doing something I love.
My principal also wants me to be the building substitute next fall, which means I will go in five days a week. It will be good steady work. I’ve already spoken to the Community Ed staff about teaching in an after-school drama class a few nights a week. This is a paid job. I will continue to take voice lessons and try out for plays, musicals and operas, and hopefully sing in my church choir.
I now see myself creating a life with new work that blends my passion for theatre with my heart for education. I want to use drama as a tool to work with inner city youth who are struggling with academic and other issues. I may want to create some historical one-woman shows to try to inspire young women.
I am thankful to many people along the way who have helped me find my path, take the risks needed to stay on it, or when necessary, modify it or create a new one. It is not always easy to follow your heart, but it is the most fulfilling. And it is much HARDER to deny or fight against what your heart wants you to do.
If you wish to contact Virginia Haggart after reading her profile, please contact me and I’ll be happy to forward your message to her.