Former Actress Finds Another Stage As Taliesan Tour Guide


By Eddy Cevilla | July 29, 2014

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For most of her life, Margaret Ingraham has been drawn to the stage.

“At (Madison) West High school I had a very interesting experience of senior year taking a speech course, taught by a woman named Ruth McCarty,” Ingraham said. “She just caught me on fire and she said, “Margaret, you are going to be an actress.”

Ingraham said her academic father and stay-at-home mother were ‘horrified’ by her newfound interest in acting. After high school, Ingraham enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison with plans to study nursing.

“My advisor … pointed out to me ‘You’re not going to be a nurse; look at your record,” Ingraham said. “There is not a nurse in that list. You’re going to major in theater and minor in music.”  

So she did, a decision which caused her love of acting and performing to grow. Still, social conventions made a career on stage seem less than likely.

“Well, the end of that summer of 1959 I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but I got married the summer of 1960,” Ingraham said. “So, things kind of came to a halt except occasionally in community theater. Women in the era that I was growing up tended to be housewives, like my mother.”

Observing other women, though, Ingraham wondered whether she could be satisfied working only at home. Soon, she learned that other women had the same question.

“But there was a new way of thinking in our society,” Ingraham said. “Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem wrote books, and let me tell you, did that ever rock marriages.”

The new attitudes rocked Ingraham’s marriage too. The couple divorced and Margaret took off in search of something more.

“I had to go back to graduate school to get a Masters of Fine Arts degree in acting because, being a female, I needed to be taken seriously,” Ingraham said.  “I worked for Chicago theaters for between seven and eight years and had a glorious experience, and Chicago was just wonderful to me.”

After several years in Chicago theater, others in theater warned Ingraham that her age would soon limit her opportunities. Soon, she was being called for fewer and fewer desirable roles.

“I was finally called by a director I just loved and asked to be in Nunsense 2, a play I hated,” Ingraham said. “So I thought, and I said to the director ‘No, I’m not going to do it. Thanks for asking me … but I’m going to leave Chicago.’ And I hung up the phone and I thought ‘who said that?’” 

Ingraham did leave Chicago, moving home to Wisconsin.

“I had grown up in Madison, I remembered the Earth in Madison,” Ingraham said. “So I came back.”

Once back in Madison, Ingraham found work teaching on campus and in her apartment. Still, she needed more work.

“I was checking the newspaper to see what I might find and there was a tiny, tiny ad saying that Taliesin was looking for tour guides,” Ingraham said. “I remembered that beautiful valley and I thought ‘wouldn’t that be fun?’”

Ingraham remembered Taliesin, the estate of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. She applied for the position and got it. Now, she walks the grounds and buildings, sharing the estate’s history with visitors from around the world.

“This job at Taliesin is so satisfying to me right now because if I can’t be on stage acting, I have a stage out in Taliesin and I have an audience out in Talesin,” Ingraham said.

Visitors take notice, often requesting her as their guide for the four hour tour.

“There are days when I walk up the hill into the parking lot to my car and I think ‘Oh I’ve had the best time today,’” Ingraham said. “I mean you can’t beat that.”

Eddy Cevilla

Eddy Cevilla was the multimedia producer and reporter at Wisconsin Public Television.
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