Alumna Q&A: actress and professor Christina Ritter ’99

by Zach Cherian | 2/21/17 12:00am

arts_ritter_courtesy
Source: Courtesy of Christina Ritter

Christina Ritter ’99 majored in history and participated in theater productions during her time at Dartmouth. Post-graduation, she trained in acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts before completing a Ph.D. in theater at the Ohio State University. She now teaches “Introduction to Theater” at the University of Kentucky and is actively touring the country with her theater company, “for/word.”

Can you tell me about your background and how you chose Dartmouth?

CR: I actually grew up in London, England — my family was over there — and I moved back to the states when I was about nine. So I went from London, England to a small town in Ohio. I had always loved history, always loved theater and actually ended up at OSU my freshman year, but knew I wanted to get out of the state and go farther away, so I applied to Dartmouth and got in and ended up as a sophomore transfer student at Dartmouth.

Did you know you were going to pursue theater after graduation?

CR: No, I guess I didn’t think it was that viable. But after my senior year at Dartmouth, I auditioned for the LAMDA and got in. After college, I went over to London, and I studied acting for a year there.

Was that where your career really got started in acting and theater?

CR: That’s when it really seemed like, “Okay, I can pursue this and also combine my love of history and my interest in theater.” So I went to LAMDA, then moved to New York City, auditioned and did some things there, but quickly realized I wanted to go back and get a Ph.D. in theater history to combine those two.

How was the for/word company founded?

CR: I met some folks in grad school, and we just found we had some really common interests about pulling materials from the historical record and building plays that were constructed from primary sources — journals and letters and those kinds of things we can find in the historical record. We weren’t interested so much in doing “docu-drama” or something like that. I mean, a lot of the plays we do are not “historically accurate” so to speak, but we use history as a starting point, and then we try to build an engaging story that certainly honors the history but is more about the human dynamic and the truth of the emotion.

Can you give me some examples of the history you’ve drawn from?

CR: Our first play was called “North,” and it was about Anne Lindbergh, the wife of Charles Lindbergh. I had read a biography about Charles Lindbergh and had just been fascinated, but the thing that caught my attention was a few pages in the biography about Anne and how she once met this French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whom a lot of people know because he wrote “The Little Prince.” He was a pilot in his own right and a member of the French Resistance during World War II and kind of an incredible human being. Anne met him, and she just really was smitten and wrote about him in her journal. We started there and looked at how she had written about him, and it seemed like she was really describing a kind of meeting of minds, a meeting of hearts and that intrigued us. So we started looking into her writings more, his writings — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — and the writings of Charles Lindbergh. All three of them were prolific writers, all three of them were pilots and by looking at those sources, we started to see a picture emerging. But the play itself moves backward and forward in time, looking at her meeting that night with de Saint-Exupéry, but also her musings on love, and life and, of course, loss — if people know anything about the Lindberghs, it’s that their first child was kidnapped. The play dealt with all of these things through this singular meeting that she had with this man.

What is for/word currently working on?

CR: In two weeks, I’m heading to St. Louis, [Missouri] to do a show called “Patience Worth.” Again, it is something we uncovered in the archives in the St. Louis Historical Society about a housewife in St. Louis in the ’20s who fancied herself a medium, and she claimed she was channeling a 17th-century spirit. She got a lot of people to believe her, and I think what really fascinated us was not so much the mysticism or the spirituality, but the limits of credulity people will believe, and how she seemed to need some kind of outlet and didn’t have it. She ended up writing poems and novels through the spirit almost as her artistic outlet.

What have been your favorite roles over the years?

CR: Certainly playing Anne Lindbergh in “North” and getting to do that. BBC ended up buying that play, and they nominated it for their Audio Drama awards. Outside of the company, I’ve certainly enjoyed working on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.”

How does your passion for history inform your approach to teaching?

CR: I love teaching, and I’ve found that I’m always very excited to teach theater history, which is one of those subjects that students in the drama department, and even teachers I think to some degree feel “I wanted to be a theater major so I could act, not so I could sit in the classroom and listen to history lectures.” I find that I always want to teach it with an eye to what the past tells us about current methods of practice, what does it tell us about why we still do certain things in the theater and why stories from the past are so important and interesting to us. I’m actually quite passionate about teaching theater history, and I also teach acting. I teach both the intellectual side of theater and then also the more practice-oriented classes.

Can you share your favorite courses you’ve taught?

CR: Right now, I’m teaching a Shakespeare acting class, and that’s been a joy. My training at LAMDA was heavily rooted in classical acting, and getting back to that has really been fun.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.