Kristin Linklater, prominent voice coach and co-founder of Shakespeare & Company, dead at 84

Shakespeare & Company co-founders Tina Packer, left, and Kristin Linklater, a widely respected voice coach, died Friday at her childhood home in Scotland's Orkney islands. She was 84.

Kristin Linklater, a co-founder of Shakespeare & Company, and widely respected voice coach, died Friday at her childhood home in Housegarth, Quoyloo, Orkney. She was 84. Her death was posted Saturday on Facebook by Kristin Linklater Voice Centre. The cause of death was not stated.

She co-founded Shakespeare & Company in 1978 with Tina Packer. In addition, over the course of her four-plus decades career in theater, Linklater coached some of the world's best-known actors, among them Patrick Stewart, Brian Cox, and Bill Murray.

An actress, director, teacher and lecturer, she also wrote numerous articles and authored several books on voice training, the best known of which, "Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language," was published in 1976 and revised in 2006.

"To us here at the company, Kristin, one of the company's founders and the original director of training, was a force beyond measure, a uniquely powerful presence, and a true inspiration," Shakespeare & Company artistic director Allyn Burrows said Monday in a prepared statement. "To lose her so suddenly is overwhelming, as there was a distinct permanence to her devotion to the work she shared with the world. Kristin's legacy, held by the multitude of students, teachers, and friends she touched and influenced, will stay with us forever."

"Kristin was my friend; a friend who changed how I perceived the world and theater," Packer said Monday. "She deepened my understanding not only about how our voices reveal who we are, but why it is essential that our voices are heard in the public space."

Born and raised in Scotland's Orkney Islands — her father, Eric Linklater, was a novelist; her mother, Marjorie Linklater, was a social activist — Linklater trained at the London Academy of Dramatic Arts. She came to New York in 1963 and joined the faculty of New York University's graduate theater program, where she and Packer eventually met and became friends.

"When Kristin first arrived in America to teach at NYU, the university was in turmoil, protesting the Vietnam war," Packer said. "Kristin's ability to understand the politics of voice made her one of the outstanding teachers of the age. She also taught generations of actors as well as training teachers.

"When I arrived in the U.S. (in 1973), the thoughts I had about the radical message of Shakespeare's plays were supported by Kristin's understanding of freeing the natural voice.

"Our friendship was immediate, and we collaborated, argued, and inspired each other for the next 50 years. The founding of Shakespeare & Company came out of that artistic collaboration."

"Kristin had a large and ambitious vision for what theater needed to be in the world and shared that with us in the formation of Shakespeare & Company," said Shakespeare & Company education director Kevin G. Coleman. "Her influence, her teaching, the force of her personality has reached across the globe with countless numbers of actors, teachers, directors, theater visionaries and most generously with friends. She was a lass unparalleled."

Linklater left Shakespeare & Company in 1992 to teach at Emerson College in Boston. While in Boston, she developed her voice coaching method and, together with feminist and psychologist Carol Gilligan, formed Company of Women, an all-female Shakespeare company which ran workshops for women and girls and created all-women Shakespeare productions. In 1997, Linklater moved to New York to join the faculty of Columbia University's theater arts program. She retired from Columbia in 2013 and returned to the Orkneys, where she opened the Kristin Linklater Voice Centre, a year-round residential facility for voice and text study.

Her son, Hamish — an established, stage, film and television actor — was born in Great Barrington in 1976.

"A month ago," Packer said, "I wrote [Kristin] and told her how her voice exercises, especially the deep breathing, really helped my recovery while I was in hospital with COVID-19, and she sent me back from the Orkneys ... a picture of us in our 30s, her wagging her finger at me. 'I always told you to do what I said' she wrote underneath it. And now she's gone. I'll still try and do what she told me.

"My heart goes out to Hamish, Lily (his wife, actress Lily Rabe) and their daughters. Another daughter is about to appear any day now — I hope she'll inherit Kristin's feistiness and fierce, loving commitment."

This article is drawn from a variety of online sources and prepared statements issued through Shakespeare & Company.