Remembering K.C. — Hank Whittemore memorializes an Oxfordian friend
Friends, colleagues and students of Katherine Dunfee Clarke (K.C.) Ligon gathered on June 22 in New York to celebrate the life of this multi-talented and beloved actress, dialect coach, teacher, writer and leader of the modern Oxfordian movement, who died on March 23 at age sixty after battling a long illness. The memorial service took place in the heart of the Broadway theatre district on a Monday evening — when most stages are dark — at the legendary Circle in the Square, where K.C. was on the faculty of the Theatre School specializing in voice, speech and dialects.
In a parallel life, K.C. was deeply involved in the effort to establish Edward de Vere as Shakespeare. Twenty years ago she won a playwriting contest sponsored by Ruth Miller (1922-2005), a giant of Oxfordian research, and they became close friends. She served on the Board of Trustees of the Shakespeare Fellowship, was a top contributor to its website discussion forum (logging 4,871 posts since 2002) and wrote articles for the various Oxfordian publications. Recently she co-authored “The Harvey-Nashe Quarrel and Love’s Labor’s Lost” with German scholar Robert Detobel that is published on Robert Brazil’s Elizabethan Authors website. She also created three blogs: K.C. Ligon’s Blog: About Theatrical, Truly Shakespearean Life, Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Myth and the Reality, and Actors and Accents: The Actors’ Dialect Workbook.
At her memorial, after the crowd took seats at one end of the Circle’s theater-in-the-round, speaker after speaker turned the occasion into an emotion-charged outpouring of affection mixed with laughter and tears, prompted by anecdotes about K.C. as a tough-minded, bluntly honest, thoroughly professional teacher and coach with deep reservoirs of empathy along with humor and insight as well as personal style and flair.
K.C. was fond of saying she had been a professional performer most of her life, born to it, not in a trunk but appearing on stage even before she was born – in 1948, when her mother Nora Dunfee was acting in Red Peppers by Noel Coward. She made her Broadway debut at eight in the Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood and at eleven appeared with both parents — her father was actor David Clarke — in the national tour of The Visit with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. A member of the first graduating class of New York University Tish School of the Arts Graduate Acting Program, she built an impressive resume of stage and television credits while also becoming a professional writer.
K.C. designed dialects for entire Broadway productions and for regional theatre companies around the country. As a dialect consultant she worked with scores of extraordinary actors such as James Earl Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Estelle Parsons. She also worked with actor Tom Ligon – whom she married in 1976 and who, at the memorial, introduced a video montage of K.C. in photographs that was both funny and deeply moving.
Also at the service was K.C.’s younger sister, Susan Dunfee; Theodore Mann, co-founder of the Circle in the Square Theatre; actor-director Austin Pendleton; and many others who told how K.C. had “performed miracles” helping hundreds of professional performers and students with phrasings, breath control, accents and interpretations of their acting roles.
One graduate of her instructions told how K.C. transformed a young man who “sounded like a thug” into a polished professional announcer; another recalled that after K.C. became too ill to travel uptown to the Theatre School, she summoned everyone down to her apartment in Greenwich Village and held class there. Tom Ligon described how she was able to help actors adopt dialects indirectly, that is, by immersing them within their characters’ settings until their accents and speech patterns began to change on their own.
By the time it was my turn to speak I realized I was opening a window on a related yet very different aspect of K.C.’s life – the Oxfordian world. I found myself talking about our friendship, our talks on the phone, conversations by email and many long, often daily discussions about various topics surrounding the issue of Shakespearean authorship. When I took my seat again a woman rose to her feet and recalled how K.C. had spoken to her often about the Earl of Oxford, citing the evidence for his authorship of the Shakespeare works.
“So when I heard she died,” the woman said, “I imagined her ascending into heaven and looking down upon us, with that sultry smile of hers, and saying, ‘I was right, wasn’t I!'”
Yes, K.C., you were right — in so many, many ways.
Hank Whittemore is a former professional actor and the author of eleven books including The Monument, elucidating the world of Shakespeare’s sonnets (www.shakespearesmonument.com). He currently performs a solo show based on the book, entitled Shake-speare’s Treason (www.shakespearestreason.com), co-written with Ted Story, director. He lives in Nyack, New York, with his wife Glo and their son Jake. Hank also produces a blog (http://hankwhittemore.wordpress.com).
K.C. Ligon’s blogs are available on the Web at:
- K.C. Ligon’s Blog: About Theatrical, Truly Shakespearean Life at http://kcligon.typepad.com
- Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Myth and the Reality at http://kcligon.wordpress.com
- Actors and Accents: The Actors’ Dialect Workbook at http://kcligon.typepad.com/acting_accents.