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Joan Channick ’89 Remembers Margaret Holloway ’80

Joan Channick ’89 (Faculty) remembers her friend Margaret Holloway ’80, “The Shakespeare Lady,” whose storied life was tragically cut short by COVID-19.

Margaret Holloway ’80, known as “The Shakespeare Lady,” died May 30 from COVID-19, at age 68, in Yale New Haven Hospital.

A Bennington College graduate, Holloway entered YSD as an acting student, left for a time, then returned to study directing. Her thesis focused on a “theater of hunger,” an all-too-apt intimation of what lay ahead.

Three years after graduation, Margaret’s schizophrenia emerged. She was resilient, surviving for nearly 40 years as a street performer whose recitations of Shakespeare monologues enlivened the city, despite occasional panhandling arrests.

After periods of homelessness, Margaret lived for a decade in a supportive housing facility on Park Street and then, in April 2018, moved to a nearby nursing home. Though she regretted her loss of independence, the nursing home provided stability: physical therapy and health care, meals, showers, clean clothes, and her own television. When I once suggested that we go out into the courtyard to enjoy the sunshine, she said that her room was “the cleanest place I’ve lived in 30 years,” and she had no desire to venture out of it.

Although medication kept her schizophrenia superficially well controlled, she was fully aware of the impact the disease had on her life. She was assailed by hallucinations and had no peace except when asleep. She couldn’t concentrate well enough to read, a bitter irony for someone who loved literature.

I visited her monthly, bringing toiletries, notebooks and pens, and treats. We talked about theater. She reminisced about performances she had given or directed. She’d wonder “whatever happened to” colleagues, and I’d tell her what I knew about their careers or would Google them on my phone. She recalled attending the holiday party at the Yale Club several years ago; someone bought her a new dress, a winter coat, and a train ticket, and she held court amidst generations of YSD alums.

We last met in early March, after which visitors were prohibited, but stayed in touch by phone through April. Margaret was afraid of contracting COVID-19 and being stuck in the nursing home, unable to see the few friends who visited regularly. Sadly, those fears were realized. After two weeks of unanswered phone calls, in mid-May I reached a nurse who told me she was in the hospital.

Two short films document Margaret’s life and work. Her college friend Richard Dailey’s God Didn’t Give Me a Week’s Notice, https://vimeo.com/7501821, was screened at York Square Cinema in 2001. More recently, Cecilia Rubino ’82, who acted in Margaret’s YSD thesis, directed Remembering Shakespeare, https://vimeo.com/404414105 (password RS1509), and gave Margaret a sneak preview in the nursing home before its 2019 public premiere.

Margaret Holloway’s love of theater sustained her. Memories of Bennington and Yale, where she was young, healthy, and creative, remained vivid. She could speak authoritatively about directing Macbeth or animatedly recite speeches from Hamlet. Performing was a way to maintain her dignity—seeking an exchange with an audience rather than a handout. She generously shared her art with friends and passersby. She is missed.


Return to Alumni Newsletter: September 2020

Margaret Holloway

Margaret Holloway ’80. Photo by Tom Kaszuba.

Margaret Holloway 2

Margaret Holloway ’80 in 1977. Photo by Perry Adleman-Clennon.

Margaret Holloway 3

Margaret Holloway ’80 in 1974. Photo courtesy of Bennington College.