Judith Wynn Rousuck ’69
Judith Rousuck ’69 graduated from Wellesley College and served as the long-time theater critic for The Baltimore Sun. She can be heard these days reporting on theater on WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR station. She has written her first novel which publishes this November and combines two of her loves: letters and dogs. Without giving too much away, Please Write centers on a recently widowed artist’s alter ego who corresponds with a pair of literate terriers whose owner’s life is unraveling.
You’re a theater critic. If you were reviewing a play about your time at Laurel, what would be the headline of your review? Can you give us a capsule review?
My Fair Laurel — Coming-of-Age Musical Earns Well-Deserved Laurels
Hairspray meets Hamlet in My Fair Laurel, a tuneful, engrossing, Broadway-bound musical about a high school girl finding her way in the world. From the opening song, “Good Morning, Laurel School” to the rousing finale, “Take My Hand, I’m No Stranger at Laurel School,” this clever collage of musicals incorporates elements from such classics as Kismet and My Fair Lady as well as Hairspray. The show has everything a theatergoer could wish for: Green costumes, a giant alligator puppet, and a happy ending. Best of all, unlike that other coming-of-age story, Hamlet, no one dies in My Fair Laurel. To the contrary, the protagonist’s spirit soars and brings the audience’s spirit right along with it. This critic couldn’t recommend My Fair Laurel more highly.
After Laurel, you went to Wellesley College, graduating summa cum laude in three years with a major prize in poetry under your belt, and then you received your master’s in journalism from Columbia University. Did you always want to be a reporter? Did you have any role models in journalism, which was a very male-dominated arena?
I began writing poetry when I was in elementary school, but even then I knew I couldn’t make a living as a poet. Being a reporter sounded like a good way to get paid for writing, and working in a newsroom looked like fun. True, role models were few and far between. I did have two, however, both named Lois. The first was Lois Lane — granted, rather two-dimensional. The second was my godmother, Lois Baumoel, who was a theater and movie critic for local and national publications. Lois B. definitely showed me that journalism could be a woman’s game.
You got your start at The Cleveland Press. Tell us what that was like and how you became a theater critic?
Although The Press was my first newspaper job, it wasn’t my first job in the media. I did my Laurel School senior project at WCLV. After I graduated from Wellesley, I went back to Cleveland and WCLV offered me a full-time job, primarily editing the station guide. I stayed with WCLV until the following summer, when I got an internship at The Press and was lucky enough to be on the critics’ staff.
My early reviews in The Press made me realize I could combine my desire to be a journalist with my deep love of the arts, and theater in particular. I entered the Columbia School of Journalism determined to become a critic.The Baltimore Sun initially hired me as a general assignment arts reporter; a decade later, when the theater critic’s job opened up, I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
I should also credit Laurel’s legendary drama teacher, Rosaneil Schenk. Mrs. Schenk not only reinforced my love of theater, but she also — gently — taught me which side of the footlights I belonged on. Suffice it to say, she relegated me to an “offstage voice” in my class’ production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Far from harboring any ill will about this, I remain forever grateful to Mrs. Schenk for instilling a lifelong admiration for actors. I never, ever watch a performer and think, “Oh, I could do that.” To the contrary, I am in awe.