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Jane Lynch returns to ISU for 3-week stay as Visiting Artist

Emmy Award-winner Jane Lynch talks to local media Tuesday, April 18, 2023, at Illinois State University's Bone Student Center. Lynch began a three-week Visiting Artist residency at ISU this week.
Ryan Denham
/
WGLT
Emmy Award-winner Jane Lynch talks to local media Tuesday, April 18, 2023, at Illinois State University's Bone Student Center. Lynch began a three-week Visiting Artist residency at ISU this week.

One of Illinois State University’s most famous alums – Jane Lynch – is back on campus to help theatre students tame their talent.

Lynch will spend the next three weeks as a Visiting Artist in ISU’s School of Theatre and Dance, through May 5. The Emmy Award-winner will direct undergraduate students in a staged reading of Neil Simon’s comedy “Lost in Yonkers,” for which rehearsals began Monday night. She’ll also visit with various classes and students throughout her stay.

Lynch said she was inspired to direct theatre after her recent run on Broadway performing in “Funny Girl.” She said she called her former ISU theatre professor, Al Goldfarb, who helped make it happen at ISU.

“One of the things I learned here that made me an actor is the process, the technique. I blossomed. Once I built the cage – the technique is the cage, and then you bounce around freely. Because I was kind of out there – that untamed talent,” Lynch said. “You come to college and that’s what you have, is a lot of kids with talent but they don’t have any way of putting it to use. They don’t understand taking a role apart and investing themselves body and soul into that role and figuring out what makes that character tick, what that character knows about themselves, and what they’re in denial about. All of that stuff, I learned right here. That’s the stuff that takes your craft from something mundane to something profound.”

Lynch spoke to local media Tuesday at the Bone Student Center, just across the street from where she used to live while she was a student in the early 1980s.

“It’s a bucolic university. It’s gorgeous. The university experience in Normal, Illinois, is like a prototype for an American university,” Lynch said. “I don’t know if I was ever happier than when I came to ISU. It was one of the highlights of my life.”

Lynch is part of a remarkable roster of ISU students who went on to fame and creative success in film, TV and stage, including Laurie Metcalf, Terry Kinney, and Jeff Perry.

Lynch attributed that success to a melding of young talent and ISU’s titanic theatre faculty, including Jean Scharfenberg, John Kirk, Ralph Lane, Cal Pritner and Goldfarb. Lynch said she even drew on Scharfenberg’s intensity for her most famous role as intimidating cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester on Fox’s “Glee.”

“It was kind of a moment in time, like a perfect storm,” she said.

Lynch will be directing 16 student actors in the “Lost in Yonkers” reading, plus a student assistant director, stage managers, and dramaturgs. Goldfarb will also serve as a dramaturg.

“The students are tremendously excited to have the opportunity to work with Jane, and we’re grateful for her generous spirit,” said Ann Haugo, director of ISU’s School of Theatre and Dance.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.