Lost in America

Stranded actress' loss is our gain

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You may remember my excitement a couple of weeks ago at discovering Linda Slade, the British actress who with Eric Davis made such a success of Stageworks' The Turn of the Screw. I had to know how a Cambridge-educated thespian with extensive work on BBC-TV found her way to a Tampa theater, and what the chances were that she might grace our stages in the future.

It turns out that a pretty unlikely set of events brought her to our area, and she'll probably depart for greener pastures (from a performer's standpoint anyway) by autumn of 2004. In the meantime she's looking for more opportunities to act locally, spending time with friends in Naples, and trying to stay sane in an area where the arts events are relatively few. She's also very chatty, winningly modest, and devoted to a life in the theater as an actress, director, producer and teacher.

Slade was visiting friends in Frankfurt, Germany, when she met an American sergeant major and started a romance. When he left the army, he moved back to Hudson, Fla., where he has family. But distance didn't put an end to the relationship. The two reunited in Florida, and in March of this year they were married. But the U.S. war on Iraq then intervened: Slade's husband, who had participated in Operation Desert Storm, was hired in July by the American government to help train the Iraqi army in Baghdad. So Slade found herself in Hudson without her husband, worrying over the news from the Middle East, and waiting anxiously for her residency and travel permits. She never intended to live in Florida permanently. "The plan was for me to be with him for a couple of years over here, and then for him to come back to London with me," she says. But now she's not absolutely sure what tomorrow will bring. "Every month seems to throw something new at us. We take each day as it comes, at the moment."

Some of her anxiety was assuaged when she found employment with Stageworks. Actress Robin O'Dell put her in contact with the theater company's producing director Anna Brennen, who asked her in July to stage manage Angels in America at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. "So I went down," says Slade with a laugh, "hadn't read the play, hadn't met any actors, and I'm not really a stage manager either. It was stepping into the dark, but I took the show on, and that was wonderful because, actually, that was around the period of my husband's leaving. And thank goodness for that company and those people because that show supported me at a time when, in my personal relationship, I was really hurting and feeling a real sense of loss at my husband having to go. And that kind of pulled me through, supported me in a major way." Next Brennen asked Slade to act in The Turn of the Screw. Stageworks was having difficulty securing a theater space, and most rehearsals were held in Brennen's living room, but "It was one of those little gems that drop in your lap," says Slade. "Everything kind of worked in our favor. ... It was quite special, I think." Still, Slade was only able to work for Stageworks because she received no fee beyond expenses; remunerative work will have to wait, she says, till the U.S. finally issues her a social security number.

So how does it feel, being a Londoner in an area not exactly brimming with culture? "Very scary," says Slade. "Living in London, I took everything very much for granted, but you know I would go and see a West End show once a week, I'd go and see a friend in something, I'd go to a museum, an art gallery, a concert ballet, you know, two or three times a week, and literally, usually for free because I knew somebody in something. ... My whole life was theater productions, art." She's looking forward to attending more performance events in the Tampa Bay area — if she can get over her discomfort with American driving. She doesn't delude herself that she can make a career here anything like the one she had going for her in London. "I'm probably going to head out to L.A.," she says, "because I know a lot of TV producers and directors and quite a few acting friends out there."

Before that happens, though, she'll be crossing the Atlantic again. For one thing, she's looking forward to a rendezvous with her husband in Kuwait. And then there are rehearsals in England of her theater troupe, the Moderneyes Theatre Company. For some time now, Slade has been working with the American acting union Equity to bring her company to Florida on a tour of universities and community colleges. The play they'll offer is a multiracial version of Strindberg's Miss Julie designed as a comment on racism. She's also planning a brief trip to Germany. "I've always been a traveler," she says. "I've lived in so many countries; I've traveled Israel, Africa, Egypt, India — that's my big passion, my big hobby, it's culture, people, languages. That's really what makes me tick as a person." One of her favorite memories is working in England with a 12-person theater company in which every actor was from a different country. From Slade's point of view, things could hardly have been better: "For me, theater, performance, acting is about the study of people, ideologies, cultures." Not coincidentally, she speaks German, Welsh and some Danish, and is learning Arabic in case she should decide to join her husband in Iraq.

She's reasonably confident that she'll be headquartered in Hudson for about another year, and she's ready to act on just about any Tampa Bay or Sarasota stage once her papers come through. So artistic directors, take note: Linda Slade has arrived. She's intelligent, experienced and abundantly talented.

And she's here a little while longer.

Performance Critic Mark E. Leib can be reached at [email protected] or 813-248-8888 ext. 305.

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