The story of Margaret Holloway is one of immense talent and severe mental illness.
Margaret was born to a minister and his wife in Georgia on Sept. 7, 1951. She attended Bennington College, with the help of a minority student placement program, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in drama. Margaret applied and was accepted into The Yale Drama School in 1974 during a time when Sigourney Weaver, costumer William Ivey, Meryl Streep, playwrights Christopher Durang, Wendy Wasserstein and Albert Innaurato were students.
Yale Alumni Magazine
“For nearly 20 years, Margaret Holloway ‘80MFA has been known to campus denizens as the “Shakespeare lady” who recites lines of Shakespeare or Chaucer for spare change. Holloway’s story has now been told in a short documentary, “God Didn’t Give Me A Week’s Notice,” which premiered at the York Square Cinema. The film was made by Richard Dailey, who knew Holloway at Bennington.
By the time Margaret finished her MFA at Yale in 1980, erratic thoughts, and behaviors associated with the onset of schizophrenia were beginning to show. Yale Drama School administrators were noticing these change
Especially after she handed in her master’s thesis, “God’s Smoke: A Thesis Production.” Margaret’s thesis describes her theories on the use of the “theater of hunger” in which “schizophrenia is a means of survival.”
“Hers is a tragedy of theatrical proportions, propelled by schizophrenia and drug addiction. She was known to smoke Crack.”
Adrian Brune, Special to the Hartford Courant
Margaret’s story was known to me before I actually met her sometime around the mid-1990s. I was standing beside my car, parked on Chapel Street in New Haven. A friend was already settled in the passengers seat. I began to enter the drivers side when I heard someone scream my name. “Lulu, can you spare two bucks? I’ll recite Hamlet for you, O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else?”
”This must be Margaret Holloway. I handed her money, she began to recite. I stood there half in my car half out, stunned. I love Shakespeare, and Margaret recitation was as passionate as if she were reciting from the stage at the Globe Theater. On this day, her stage was on the front steps of the Yale Repertory Theater where my car was parked.
O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else?
And shall I couple hell? Oh, fie! Hold, hold, my heart,
And you, my sinews, grow not instant old,
But bear me stiffly up. Remember thee!
Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there,
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, by heaven!
most pernicious woman!
O villain, villain, smiling, damnèd villain!
My tables! — Meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark. (writes)
So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word.
When she finished she looked at me smiling. I told her how much I loved her beautiful and passionate recitation, and thanked her. She left promising to visit me at the shop. My friend sitting in the passengers seat turned to me and said, “I don’t know how you do it, but every character and eccentric in this city gravitates to you.” I replied, “Yes, so it seems, I’m just lucky, I guess.”
Margaret came to the shop many times for a coffee and an egg sandwich treat. I wanted to be sure she ate something nutritious. Most times, she was subdued, but on occasion she would became loud and threatening, the crack taking over her playful personality. I would walk over to ask her to come outside with me explaining some customers don’t know her, and even though she doesn’t realize it her outbursts frighten many of them. She would always say, “Sorry, Lu. I didn’t realize it.”
One day stands out in my mind.
I walked into the shop about 8 AM to find Margaret sitting in the corner quietly. My Barista pulled me over, out of ear-shot, to tell me Margaret was in a “bad way.” He went on to say, she’s unusually quiet in a weird way. When I got settled, I looked over at her and said, “Hi, Margaret. She looked up at me with a broad smile, that’s when my jaw almost dropped. She painted her teeth with a shiny gold artist’s paint, when she smiled, it was as if she swallowed the sun.
I didn’t say anything at first, just stared, not wanting her to erupt in the store full of customers, instead, saying something non-threatening like, brilliant, good job Margaret but do you think that’s healthy having paint on your teeth? She gave me the biggest golden smile, saying, “Lulu, you get it.” “You don’t say much, but you get it, you get me.”
“Yes, I think I do Margaret, so I would ask you two things, One, please take the gold off your teeth I’m worried that it’s toxic, and two since you’ve finished eating I’ll need that table for people waiting.” “OK, OK, she said, backing out of the store, I’ll see you next week.”
There were periods when Margaret was missing from the city. When I’d ask about her whereabouts, I’d learn she was in jail for petty crimes or in the hospital. Margaret was so talented it was heartbreaking to hear that she would need to gravitate toward illegal, and dangerous drugs.
After selling my business, a period of time went by I realized I hadn’t seen her downtown in places where she would hangout. I asked about her. Her friends on the street told she has cleaned up her addiction to illegal drugs and was taking proper medication to help lessen the hallucinations from schizophrenia.
I was elated. Margaret is living in a clean, sunny apartment that is safe. We are her friends, and we are cheering for her. Even though Margaret could be trying at times, we cared about her.
Footnote: A am saddened to report, Margaret Holloway died of COVID19 on May 30, 2020. She will be missed.