Todd’s trailer home feels empty. A stack of books are piled in the corner and a mattress is in the back, covered with a sleeping bag. Looking out the window is a lake, then grassland stretches on for miles. Todd is hundreds of miles away from any friend or family.
Traveling across the Midwest, Todd held jobs ranging from bartending to substitute teaching. After a year of travel, Todd is unemployed, waiting to hear about a job teaching drama as therapy in a halfway house in Sioux City, Iowa.
Before she started teaching at Grant, Todd was a nomad. She moved across the globe from Portland to New York City to Los Angeles to London and back to Portland again.
“I was pretty much a romantic for most of my 20s and 30s,” she says.
Her over-a-decade long career as an actor helped inspire the mobility, but it wasn’t the main source of Todd’s unrest. Questions about her sexuality wouldn’t allow her to stay in one place long. Todd’s movement from city to city was an exploration; a search to find the answers to those questions, she says now.
Today, the romantic in Todd is subdued and the questions about her sexuality have been put on the back burner, and she has found her niche in teaching. For her, Grant is the end of a long, torturous road filled with turmoil, complexity and soul-searching.
Todd was born in July 1961, the youngest of three in Silverton, Oregon. When she was 1, her father uprooted the family and moved to Newport for work.
Her childhood was something like a Norman Rockwell painting. Living in a small, three-bedroom house built by her grandfather, the woods were her playground.
Her walk to school was equally rustic. The two-mile hike would lead her through canyons and on cliffs above the Pacific, ending on a bluff overlooking the ocean where her school was situated.
In fifth grade, Todd’s Newport adventures abruptly ended. Once more, her father’s work caused them to move, first to Corvallis, then to Beaverton.
During middle school, Todd’s love for theatre took off. Performing was always a passion; she was putting on shows in her garage for as long as she could remember.
“She always entertained us,” recalls Todd’s sister, Michelle McGriff. “At dinner, we would be eating spinach and she would go lift up the couch. She was living in her head all the time with her characterizations.”
Todd attended Aloha High School where she decided her future was in acting. She went on to attend the University of Oregon to study acting and directing.
After college, she made the next logical step for an aspiring actor and moved to Los Angeles. She wasn’t happy with the roles being offered and was intimidated by the magnitude of the competition.
Todd remembers one audition process for the soap opera, General Hospital. “I got to the final callback,” Todd says. “It went between me and this other woman and the other woman got it.”
After coming close to landing a big role, Todd was exasperated. “I should have been excited,” Todd recalls. “But even then when things didn’t happen, there was a little sense of relief.”
So she changed gears. After several months, she left L.A. and moved to New York City to focus on theatre. But New York didn’t work either.
Todd became distracted with the environment, going to clubs and staying out into the early hours of the morning. Although she was exploring what New York City had to offer, it hurt her in the long run.
The days after nights of partying were rough, and Todd would show up at auditions exhausted and unprepared.
“There were a lot of distractions and that was definitely one of them,” Todd says. “There was a lot of really intense drug use and I was certainly not immune to it. It took up a lot of time and energy.”
Additionally, Todd soon discovered New York City wasn’t what she perceived it to be. Todd missed the Northwest and became fed up with New York City’s grungy urban sprawl. Finally, when Todd was walking through Greenwich Village in Manhattan, an old woman in front of her stopped abruptly and defecated on the sidewalk.
At that moment, Todd realized she needed to leave. “It was like, ‘I do not want to live here. I do not want to live in a place where this is what humanity is,’” Todd recalls. “‘I have got to get out of here.’”
Within weeks, Todd moved back to Oregon; but she still wasn’t content. While living in Portland, Todd was unexpectedly confronted by her family. Standing in her mother’s kitchen, Todd’s family told her they had heard from a friend of Todd’s that Todd was dating women. They asked her if it was true.
She was shocked. At the time, she hadn’t answered the question for herself. “It was devastating,” Todd remembers. “It forced me to define myself before I was ready.”
Without knowing what to say, Todd told them that it was true. Her sisters were accepting; Todd’s mother less so. “Her first response was ‘Where did I go wrong? What did I do?’” Todd says. “I felt like I disappointed her.”
Although she was outed, Todd shielded her personal life from the rest of her family. It wasn’t too long before Todd was on the move again away from Portland.
The years that followed saw Todd on the road once more. She revisited familiar cities, hoping that it might be different from the first time.
Inevitably, she moved on. Although she was trying to focus on acting, her personal happiness didn’t follow.
Her relationships soon became the focal point and Todd’s career waned.
She continued to land some roles. She starred in the movie, Claire of the Moon in 1992, directed by Nicole Conn, portraying an author questioning her sexuality after a lesbian encounter.
The movie brought Todd a host of options. An agency flew Todd and her Portland agent down to California. She says they offered to sign her, on the condition she move to the area. Todd remembers sitting in the office with her agent, listening to the pitch and feeling uninspired.
When she arrived in Portland, she called the office in L.A. and turned down the offer.
She knew there needed to be a change. “It was like, ‘OK, I finally get to do what I want to do, and I’m really unhappy,’” Todd recalls.
Todd sought out her father for advice. He told her: “Just because you have a dream as a child doesn’t mean that’s the dream you end up with as an adult.”
For Todd, it was an epiphany. She realized: “It’s OK to let a dream go. It’s OK to realize this ultimately isn’t what my life is supposed to be.”
Todd had to rethink where she wanted her future to be. It didn’t take long. She was interested in teaching high school and college, so she spent the next few years at the University of Portland for her credentials in education. When she finished school, she got a job teaching at a high school in Battle Ground, Wash.
Her stint there was rocky. At the time, she lived in McMinnville and driving to Battle Ground meant commuting four hours every day. During
Todd’s first year, Claire of the Moon had run on Showtime on cable.
The townspeople found its storyline scandalous. “The principal ran out to the movie stores and bought all the copies,” Todd remembers. Students who saw it acted as if they had uncovered a foul secret of Todd’s due to the content of the film.
Although she was at first defensive, Todd accepted her students’ curiosity and gave in to their questions. Another year passed before Todd decided she was fed up with teaching in Washington.
Leading Battle Ground’s theatre program combined with the long hours in the car became too demanding, and she resigned.
Leaving coincided with another opportunity. Todd’s significant other at the time wanted to move to the East and start a new life. Following the stress of teaching, leaving felt like an escape.
For Todd, the next year was an odyssey. She packed her old Westfalia van and moved all over the Midwest, finding work as she went.
McGriff remembers Todd returning to Portland briefly and then heading East. “She wasn’t settled and she definitely was a little lost trying to find where her ultimate lighting point was going to be,” McGriff says. “That was the basis of why she was going back and forth.”
McGriff had a room above her garage in Portland, which served as Todd’s base. “I went from there,” says Todd. “I taught in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. I was subbing everywhere.”
When she wasn’t working, Todd started writing about her travels and experiences. The adventure lasted for nearly a year.
When Todd and her partner split, everything changed. What was before an adventure quickly turned into a meaningless wandering of the Midwest. Todd continued her journey for several weeks. One morning, she woke up and was at a loss. The one thing tying her to the Midwest – her relationship – had ended.
In a trailer on the edge of a lake in South Dakota, Todd realized she needed to get out. “It was like, ‘What am I doing? Why am I staying here?’”
Her way out arrived in a phone call. She was offered a job teaching drama at Grant where she had subbed before. The former theatre teacher recommended Todd as her replacement. At first, Todd was unsure. She tried delaying the interview, saying her car broke down and couldn’t make it.
The interview was rescheduled. Todd gathered her possessions and stuffed them in her Westfalia. Driving through Sioux City, Todd stopped briefly at a gas station to fill her tank. Standing next to her van, Todd saw her former partner crossing the street and she encountered a brief flash of indecision.
Todd says she saw her road split off into different directions and she wondered which one to take.
She headed back west, this time for good. While driving, Todd knew she made the right decision. “Once I headed back on the road, it was like, ‘Yes, this is how it’s supposed to be,’” she remembers thinking.
In 1996, Todd began teaching at Grant and fell in love. The students were knowledgeable in the arts. They “really understood theatre. They were experienced,” she says.
At Grant, everything came together. After returning from her nomadic life, Todd wrote a book about her experiences and titled it The Drive. She recognizes her classroom, L2, as the longest place she has stayed consistently. Todd even formed a long-term relationship and had kids.
All the energy previously consumed by years of wandering, Todd poured into theatre. Chris Lane, Todd’s longtime collaborator and head of the Theatre Department, says she was very focused when they first started. “She was more subdued, more serious,” Lane says.
Todd remembers back in 2001, when she and her cast were rehearsing for their production of The Little Prince, and she fell off the stage and injured her knee. They continued rehearsing for another 20 minutes before Todd realized that she needed to go to the hospital. She had broken her knee.
When Todd was recovering, one of her actors dropped by to check in. “He came knocking at my door, and said ‘we’ll take it from here,’” recalls Todd. “We ended up talking for like two hours. Those are times, as a teacher, where I feel like it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Kiah Stern was a student of Todd’s before graduating last year. Having acted in several of Todd’s plays, Stern says she played a tremendous role during her years at Grant.
In one play, Stern “had the tiniest part. I shared my line with another girl and somehow she made me feel important,” Stern recalls. “My character was only supposed to be in one scene, but I was incorporated into all of the rest of the play. She taught us that there was no small role, only small actors.”
But her stay at Grant hasn’t been without a few bumps. Todd and her partner split after 13 years. “It was the worst year of my life and the best year of my life,” says Todd, who had to acclimate to spending half as much time with her children. “The great part was I was on my own,” Todd says. It gave her an opportunity for complete independence.
At the same time, budget cuts were hurting the arts. The principal at the time sat down with Todd and told her she was out as a drama teacher. “When I found out, I basically went home and cried,” remembers Todd.
Her options were simple: leave Grant and teach theatre elsewhere, or stay and teach English. It wasn’t a hard a decision. “I embraced it,” Todd says, eager for a new challenge.
She left her long held place in L2 and moved into the main building with the English Department. “I didn’t really get the full effect of it until I completely lost my theatre class and moved into the mothership,” she says.
Her identity as a teacher had shifted and Todd had to adapt. Teaching got easier. Today, Todd has hit her stride. Although her questions about her sexuality are not fully answered, it is no longer a priority. “The other things have gone to the side,” Todd says. “They haven’t been a distraction.”
Her sister, Marci Todd, notices a difference. “She is in a greater place of peace,” she says. “She is not searching for something.”
Trisha Todd agrees. “I feel real good about where my life is,” she says. “It’s exciting. Especially coming back here, things have kind of come full circle. It’s like coming home.”
For this school year, Todd returned to Room L2. Although she’s not teaching theatre, she is incorporating drama in her new “Writing for Performance” class.
“I’ve had to find myself. I had to find my way here,” Todd says. “I had to take this whole circuitous route, but you have to trust what feels right.”