I was brought up around the idea of theatre. My Mother had a huge influence on my life’s path — she was a dramatic woman and unafraid of “drama.” My Mother,
Mary Nell Santacroce (she was Mary Nell Ivey before she divorced my Father and married my step-father), was an actress in Atlanta, Ga, where I was born and grew up. I
saw her play Saint Joan in “Joan of Lorraine” when I wasabout 7, and was very impressed by it. There werepictures on the living room wall of her as Joan in armor,
looking beautiful and inspired. She cared very much about language and voice, eventually getting a Masters in Speech therapy. My speech was often corrected and my ear trained. Living in the deep South I grew up with lots of Southern usages, and my Mother would make me repeat the proper sound, instructing me, for instance, to
make the word “pie” a diphthong, when I asked for a second helping after dinner. I remember working with her on Invictus, a poem she loved, and her teaching me to
keep the voice moving under each word and lifting the pitch and intensity at the right moment. She loved the theatre and was pretty much the queen of what was
theatre in Atlanta in the 40′ and 50’s. It was all amateur theatre, there was no union theatre there then. I saw her several times in plays during that time. In the late 1940’s she became the Director of the plays at Georgia Tech, a part-time position in the English Department, and directed 3 plays a year with the Georgia Tech students.She did this for over 20 years, and I saw almost all the plays she directed. She didn’t let me see some of them when I was young, because of the subject matter, but when I became a teen-ager, I saw them all. And I played parts in many of them. I played many maids, was Ursula in “Much Ado About Nothing,” and in the chorus of “Oedipus Rex.” I got a wide-ranging education of plays while in high school and doing these plays with my Mother. The students, all men then, called her “Coach.” I eventually took over her job for several years in the 70’s, directing, like her, three plays a year, and also enjoyed being called “Coach, ” but there was really only one “Coach,” and that was her. I inherited from my mother a love of linguistics, of language and beautiful speech, and a sense of presentation. I cannot say how profoundly this has been a foundation of my life and my career. When I was a child I was also in the Children’s Civic Theatre of Atlanta. This was one play a year, by children, for children, and it was all put together by Edith Russell. She would put an ad in the paper about auditions, which were held at the main library in downtown Atlanta. Every child who came, up to the age of 13, was given a part or written into the script. I started when I was 7 years old, playing a palace guard and doubling as the 7th fairy in Sleeping Beauty. Each character had a one-sentence speech. And there were smaller children who played flowers or bees, or something like that. As one grew older, the parts would be bigger. I remember being in “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” when I was 8 (playing a thief), then playing a lady-in-waiting tossing a golden ball around with other ladies-in-waiting in Snow White around the age of 10, and at age 11 or 12 playing Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in “The Wizard of Oz.” I had my starring role at 13, the last year a child could participate, when I played in “East of the Sun, and West of the Moon.” The whole experience was full of magic for me always, and I loved dressing up in costumes and putting on makeup.
When I went to Rollins college, I majored in theatre, then studied on a Fulbright Grant at LAMDA in London for a year. I came back and started working, and have been lucky to have had as much work as I have had over the years. I appeared with my mother in a couple of plays at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in the 70’s, notably “The Crucible” and “The Miracle Worker.” She was very proud of my career, and making her proud was one of the reasons I became an actress. Her influence — ethically, morally, technically, emotionally, ideologically, spiritually — has been enormous, and I cannot separate myself and my career from all she has given me.