If you’ve ever been to the famed Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor, you most likely got your program from the upbeat and positive Mary Malcolm. This spritely woman is 93 years old and has never missed a show in the last 28 years.
Mary Malcolm | Rae Matthews
Malcolm grew up in a family of theater enthusiasts and performers; she says her mother had a beautiful voice and was in several Shakespeare plays and operas. In 1914, her mother, Esther Jarrett, left New York, where she was living, and traveled to San Francisco to be in Victor Herbert’s light opera, “The Only Girl.” She met Robert Kennedy Malcolm, who followed her back to New York after the production and they got married. Then, the couple moved back to the Bay Area where she says her father was a prominent figure, who helped rebuild the city after the big earthquake.
“When asked about the rumor that she donates upwards of 200 hours
of time in any given season, Malcolm replies, ‘I don’t know; I just come
every night. I’ve done it all my life. Shakespeare keeps me young.’ ”
When Malcolm was 7 years old, her family moved to Davis and lived on a ranch. She went to elementary school at San Domenico, California’s oldest independent school in Marin County, where Malcolm says the nuns helped her foster a love of Shakespeare. She memorized Shakespeare’s works, which was instrumental in shaping her continued education and career.
Due to her amazing memorization skills, Malcolm was exceptionally good at math and could solve complex problems. But when she went off to college at Stanford University, her advisor quickly realized the potential she had for the arts. Malcolm ended up majoring in English and started writing plays for children’s theater. Palo Alto had a wonderful children’s theater at the time, she said, and she traveled around the area teaching children drama and acting in the plays that she wrote.
“I had an outstanding professor (at Stanford) who went to Ashland, named Marge Bailey,” Malcolm says. Her son, Jarret Malcolm, adds that Bailey had a big influence on his mother.
Dr. Bailey, the well-known critic, writer and teacher of Shakespeare, also taught the Bard to Angus L. Bowmer, the founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Mary Malcolm with 2016 Volunteers of the Year Dan and Joan O’Lear. |Rae Matthews
Malcolm and her family vacationed in Lake Tahoe during her upbringing before she eventually moved to Incline Village in 1989. In a house perched above the lake with a gorgeous view of Mount Tallac, she began taking care of her aging mother and occasionally volunteering for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. When her mother died in 1994, she dedicated her efforts full time to the festival.
“About eight years ago they ran out of money and couldn’t pay the actors,” Malcolm says. “Then they hired (executive director) Bob Taylor from Ohio, Charlie Fee as the (producing artistic) director and Joe Atack (director of education) to start the Young Shakespeare Program. That’s when it really got going.”
While she continued to enthusiastically hand out programs every night, the festival staff created the Mary Malcolm Award in 2008 to honor a volunteer who demonstrates dedication and outstanding service.
“A few years ago, my 5-year-old grandson and I handed out programs together and received awards for being the oldest and the youngest volunteers. Every year, they put me up on stage with Bob and we give the prize,” she says.
So what has been the hardest part of volunteering for Shakespeare? Malcolm says, “It was being in the sand bowl.”
Back in the day when people brought their own chairs, she would go out and rent 400 to 600 chairs for attendees who didn’t come with their own.
“One night, all of the people left after the show and went to a party in town. No one realized that they left just me and the volunteer coordinator,” she says with a laugh. “We didn’t go home until the middle of the night after putting away all of those chairs.”
When asked about the rumor that she donates upwards of 200 hours of time in any given season, Malcolm replies, “I don’t know; I just come every night. I’ve done it all my life. Shakespeare keeps me young.”