It was the mid-70s and the art of miming was in. Naturally, colleges that offered arts courses would be looking for teachers to fill positions in theater arts and PCC was no exception.
Whitney Rydbeck, mime and acting and directing professor, came to teach at PCC in 1975. He started as only a part-time teacher at the time but dedicated 40 years to teaching what he loved. He later moved up to the full-time position in 1997 when it became available.
Most teachers hope to leave some kind of legacy behind or at least hope to achieve some kind of goal during their tenure. Rydbeck held himself, the school and his students to a standard well above average and he hopes that the school and the students continue to aspire to greater heights in the theater arts.
“Well, all teachers who love their craft will contribute similar legacies in that we all hope we made a change for the better, inspired and encouraged, helped develop confidence and a feeling of accomplishment in our students,” Rydbeck said. “For me, I hope I leave a love for the theatre, my genuine concern for the students and that I tried to be fair and honest in both casting and grading. I also believe the high standard I aspired to for productions and training will inspire others who follow to surpass my work and continue the assent of PCC as a fine theatre training and production institution.”
One trait Rydbeck has passed on to his students in his teachings was honesty. For an actor to portray a character on the stage or in film, they have to be sincere in their performance or the audience may get lost in translation. Alexander Mashikian, a former student of Rydbeck’s since October of 2009, feels that lesson left a lasting impression on him.
“To be honest!” Mashikian exclaimed. “There are many components to comedy and comedic timing and I think he’s taught me the most important of them all: to be honest. A comedian has to believe in his point of view, and then commit to it, no matter how ridiculous. His reactions need to come from honesty and how much that character believes that his opinion and point of view is the right one. A lot of things in life we find funny come from honest people in honest situations.”
Although Rydbeck has high hopes for the school and the future of its theater arts department, he also feels that a teachers’ work is never truly finished.
“There will always be more to accomplish. I am proud of what I achieved these many years here at PCC,” Rydbeck said. “The irony of this departure time for me is that I feel I am entering the prime of my work, both as a director and teacher.”
Mashikian went on further, pointing out that Rydbeck is probably one of the most valuable theater arts teachers PCC has ever had.
“I don’t think the students or faculty realize how hard it will be on them,” Mashikian said, “because there are so few actors out there that have the comedic timing and old school Vaudevillian art in their bone marrow that Whitney did. It was second nature to him and so natural. He definitely passed that on to his students whether they knew it or not. He will be missed.”
Rydbeck noted that he planned to stay on and teach for about two more years, but he’ll utilize a retirement plan that allows him to still return as an adjunct teacher.
Rydbeck could not put a finger on what the pinnacle of his career was teaching at Pasadena City College. Having spent 40 years teaching and directing as many as seven productions a year in that time, it’s easy to see why it would be difficult to do so.
He feels proud of having watched his students grow and always continue to grow as artists. Several of his students went on to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), one of the most prestigious acting schools in the world. Others studied with prominent acting coaches.
As proud as he is of his students, it is very clear that he has had a large hand in shaping them as artists and students. Thanks to his past experiences as an actor himself, Rydbeck has been able to pass on a multitude of information. As long as his students were paying attention, they could have learned so much.
“I think what Whitney has shared with all of us is not only his amazing comedic timing, but [also] his very real life every day, crucial, hands on experience of a person who’s gone through almost every aspect of the entertainment industry,” Mashikian said.
There are never any sure matters in a persons’ life until they make a choice. For someone in their retirement, there are many choices to be made. Almost like returning to a time of childhood with no real concerns or worries, Rydbeck is free once more to do as he pleases.
“Well, to paraphrase Arnold [Schwarzenegger], ‘I may be back.’ No guarantee, but it would be nice to segue from full to part-time.”
Rydbeck said he plans to travel and perhaps direct outside of PCC. As far as acting goes, he can now play “Old Man” parts, as he put it. He also looks forward to just relaxing. He pointed out that a true perk of retirement for him is no more paperwork to deal with.
The future is uncertain, but the world, as always, is a stage and it has one more actor returning to the playground.
“The performing arts programs at PCC are a well-kept secret as far as the community is concerned and my hope is that our success will bring additional publicity and support,” he said.