Margaret Bundy Scott Professor of Theatre Emerita (1973-2016)
Presented: Oct. 1, 2019, by Mark Cryer, Associate Professor of Theatre
I first met Carole when I interviewed at Hamilton College in 1999. I’d already been on six interviews because it was my first year after grad school, and I received six job offers. It was clear to me at the time that I was Neo; I was “the chosen one.” So, it was with this sense of self- importance when I had lunch with Carole, who was unimpressed with my sense of self-status and began to ask me pointed questions about why Hamilton. At some point in the interview, I turned this question back to her and asked, “Why is Hamilton interested in me?” When she candidly said that Hamilton was trying to diversify its faculty and that there were only seven faculty of color and that part of my attraction was the fact that I was black, my inner monologue kicked into high gear! What the !!!????
Talking with my wife after the interview, it became clear that the other six offers I’d received were due at least in some part to my ethnicity, and, while every other college I interviewed at seemed hesitant or even afraid to mention the obvious — I am black — Carole was the only one with enough comfort to honestly mention this salient fact. While I expected to grow and change at whatever college I chose to work at, one thing wouldn’t change: my ethnicity. It was through this acknowledgement that I came to understand that if I chose Hamilton, my black voice would be included with my position. It was also clear to me that, at some point in her life, Carole had earned her “ghetto card” and could be trusted. To this day, I don’t know how she got it, who gave it to her, or when, but have it she did.
Over the next 16 years we worked together, we had our ups and downs for sure, and I wouldn’t trade a single one because I learned from each and every interaction. She taught me the most important element of being a chair: have a thick skin. If you had an issue that had you upset, she’d always ask, is this the hill you want to die on? And my personal favorite was, Don’t ask for my advice if you’re not gonna take it.
She was a master with our students: Like a good cannoli, which she loved, hard on the outside — which meant do your work, no excuses, and the show must go on — and soft and sweet on the inside — which meant she cared about the person and their growth and personal well-being. When alumni heard of her passing, tributes poured in, and the Carole stories and anecdotes piled up. “She was extremely perceptive,” “She was funny and laughed with her whole body,” and “She was profound, harsh, gentle, and sarcastic, sometimes all at the same time.” The wisdom that she shared with her students extended to those she worked with, me included, and it is that wisdom and her way of thinking that I’ll miss the most. In her 43 years on the Hill, she guided students to award-winning careers in the industry to be writers, producers, actors, directors, and academics, but she would say her greatest contribution was making them better people. And at this point in this memorial minute she would also say that all of this is much too earnest and get on with it already!
One could not take a class with her and forget the experience, and she would freely admit that she wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea and used this following bit of wisdom whenever she taught: “You always need to remember that you’re not the last stop on their learning bus route of life.” She led a creative life, had a wonderful eye for talent, along with an eclectic sense of humor and style. She loved the idea of water in her plays and would have put a full-size Olympic pool on stage if the production budget could have supported it, but she would often settle for pink flamingos instead. For years in our old space, Minor Theater, there lived a 7’x4’ crushed red velvet vagina sculpture that she had used in one of her shows. That was Carole.
She also wanted to put this Styrofoam frog in the lobby of our new building. I had been department chair for a few months when I first heard from C&D, then architects of the building, and finally various department faculty, and there was a clear consensus that this frog from one of her shows didn’t quite fit the image we’d hoped to create as we moved into our multi-million dollar new facilities. As the new, first-time chair at the time, it fell to me to fix this possibly prickly issue. I took a step back, looked at the frog in question, and asked myself, as I often do, what would Carole do? She would have picked up the frog like she owned it and put it in her car and took it home. Which is exactly what I did.
This spring she’ll be buried in the Hamilton cemetery behind what used to be Minor Theater so that she can, in her words, “Haunt the shit outta this place.” We stand on the shoulders of giants. Carole Bellini-Sharp was one of them. Habitually 15 minutes late for most everything is how she rolled through life, and when we talked last, we laughed together at the thought of her being 15 minutes late when it came time to meet her maker. I certainly hope she was.
Presented: Oct. 1, 2019, by Nancy Rabinowitz, Professor of Comparative Literature
Carole had a sign on her List office door: Speak up even when your voice is shaking. That was thematic of her life and the way she lived it. I’m sure she would give us the same advice now.
Carole was a trouble-maker. We started together at Kirkland, and while we were both aware of its flaws, we also struggled against the merger and then to make Hamilton the best coeducational college it could be. She helped in founding the Faculty for Women’s Concerns and fought the early battles, including the one against fraternities. She was the spirit and the director in many struggles.
She also built community. As a member of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Women, Gender and Society (KP for short), she was a tremendous supporter of women especially in the arts, bringing many female performers to campus — Cheryl Dunye, Karen Finley, and playwright Irene Fornes to name a few. She was active in theatre internationally, and she shared that with us on campus. She also generously welcomed many new women members of the faculty to campus.
She had a domestic side and loved to can and cook; she would bring baggies to events so that food would not go to waste. But she was also her father’s daughter; he, a gambler, liked to live large when times were flush. So did Carole, who had a lavish bathroom installed in her new house, and almost to the end, she was the Perle Mesta of the hospital ward she was on, asking staff to have a seat!
Speaking of staffs, she loved celebrations, and she decorated her marshal’s stick like a maypole and wanted flowers at Commencement so that it would be more festive.
Like Mark and her students, I learned a great deal from Carole Bellini-Sharp about how to live and fight, about theatre and teaching. I miss her terribly and am forever in her debt.