From Towson to Tony and back Getting and giving: Acclaimed actor John Glover returns to TSU for honorary doctorate and to teach theater.

January 06, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

When Tony Award-winning actor John Glover enrolled at what was then Towson State Teachers College three decades ago, he expected to become an English teacher. But he soon discovered he was "terrified" of standing in front of a class and imparting knowledge.

Now his alma mater is getting back at him -- turning him into a teacher and giving him an honorary doctorate as well. Towson State University has just named Glover its first Distinguished Visiting Professor of Acting. And tomorrow, he will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the university's 131st commencement.

As part of the commencement exercises, Glover -- who, in 1966, became the first Towson student to graduate with a theater major -- will deliver a short speech in front of an audience of 3,500 students, faculty, parents and friends.

"I'm in living hell. I'm used to giving three-minute speeches," the actor admitted from his New York apartment. "I think a lot of actors feel it, when they have to get up as themselves and say something. That's what's terrifying."

At this year's Tony Awards, Glover gave an even shorter speech, since acceptance speeches were limited to just 40 seconds. But in those few seconds, it was impossible to mistake the enthusiasm of this 51-year-old, Salisbury-raised actor, who was honored for his tour-de-force portrayal of diametrically opposed twin brothers in Terrence McNally's "Love! Valour! Compassion!"

A stage and screen actor with credits ranging from Shakespeare and Ibsen to the movies "52 Pick-Up," "Scrooged" and "Julia," Glover achieved national prominence when he won the Tony. But his former professor, C. Richard Gillespie, says the Tony was hardly Glover's only qualification for Towson's honorary doctorate, which has been given to only one other Towson theater graduate -- Charles S. Dutton, in 1991.

"We give a degree to people because of values they represent in their work," Gillespie says. "I would call it the humanistic values that underlie art, and John simply represents those. They're part of what he does. He's not, in the wrong sense, a star. He didn't go to Hollywood and become a different person."

'A natural'

The visiting professorship -- a three-year, renewable contract, which Glover accepted this week and which will allow him to teach between acting engagements -- grew out of his two previous teaching experiences at Towson.

"We all knew how good he was as an actor," says Maravene Loeschke, chairwoman of the theater department. "When he came in and started teaching so excellently, we said: 'This is amazing. He's a natural teacher.' "

Glover's most recent teaching stint was in October, during his only week off in 18 months. "Love! Valour! Compassion!" had ended its acclaimed Broadway run (Glover will repeat his award-winning twin roles in the movie version). At that time, he had just completed an independent film called "This Black Rich Country," in which he plays the father of a runaway teen-ager; and immediately after his fall visit to Towson, he began rehearsing his role as a cynical, recovering drug addict and alcoholic in Ron Nyswaner's "Oblivion Postponed," an off-Broadway play that closes tonight.

Despite this flurry of activity, Glover told the Towson theater majors: "I still have to audition now. I won a Tony this year. It hasn't changed my life. I'll start a new job and be terrified I'll never be able to do it. So this process you're all now beginning is never-ending."

But he also assured them that he loves the work: "If I can't get into the joy of what I'm doing, there's no reason to do it."

At Towson, Glover's involvement has included not only teaching, but eating lunch with students and attending rehearsals at night. And, in his past two visits, he's spent considerable time coaching students on audition pieces.

In October, Stephanie Folkart, a senior from Owings Mills, showed him three audition pieces, including a five-minute rendition of "The Wizard of Oz" in which she played all the characters. Watching attentively from the edge of the stage, Glover advised her to find specific visual attributes for each character and speed the piece up so it moved faster as it came to the end. "Try things. I don't know all the answers, but try everything and see what works best," he told her.

"He made me look at things -- to not be afraid, to experiment," Folkart said afterward. "It gives you encouragement. It's nice to know someone from a school you go to has been successful. He's been to tons of auditions."

Another student who's studied with Glover at Towson is Jason Tinney, a senior from Frederick who is the first recipient of the John Glover Scholarship. A longtime fan of Glover's, Tinney says the actor's portrayal of the killer in the 1986 movie "52 Pick-Up" "was one of the roles that sort of sealed it for me that I wanted to pursue acting as a career."

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