Astoria Characters: The Woman Who Brings History to Life

Hal bursts into the back yard like a flying bullet, grabs a knit cap from the bag on the chair and starts dragging it through the mud.

He gets excited when visitors come, says Lynda Kennedy, as she tries to pry the prize from his mouth.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lynda works for the Intrepid museum.

Hal, a Great Dane/Labrador/Border Collie mix, is a 4-and-a-half-year-old rescue with innocent brown eyes.

He joined Lynda’s family when he was only 4 months old, so he’s had plenty of time to train everyone to obey his every command.

Lynda, whose career has revolved around the theater and museum worlds, is a born storyteller, so it’s not surprising that she’s got some doggoned doozies about Hal, starting with his arrival.

Lynda, her husband and daughter were walking home from the Museum of the Moving Image, where they had just viewed 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“My daughter had been lobbying for a dog for a long time,” Lynda says. “And we were looking at all the dogs we passed and assessing them.”

She pets Hal, who is sitting still at her feet, at least for now.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lynda with Hal.

They saw dogs that were too big and dogs that were too tiny.

Then they noticed a perfect-sized black-and-white puppy.

On closer inspection, they noted that he was wearing a vest emblazoned with the plea, “Adopt me.”

What’s more, his name just happened to be Hal, the same as the Space Odyssey’s computer-in-chief.

“We took this as a sign from God,” Lynda says.

Hal distinguished his puppy years by, among other things, eating an extension cord (the copper wires were visible in his X-rays, but things came out naturally on the other end) and swallowing a tennis ball whole (yes, there was surgery, and no, he’s not allowed to play ball with his pals any more).

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lynda is one of the founders of Gorilla Rep.

Lynda’s own story starts more serenely.

The last of three children, she grew up in Torresdale, a working-class neighborhood in the Far Northeast section of Philadelphia.

She took cello, piano, and of course, dance lessons and got introduced to theater in elementary school – she was cast as the lead in the musical Finian’s Rainbow in fifth grade.

After her father died and Lynda realized that her career choices were slim — “girls at the time where I lived either got married or became nuns” – she started focusing on college.

“Nobody in my family had gone to college, and there wasn’t any money for it,” she says. “It was hard because I didn’t have anyone to help me.”

At 17, the age her daughter is now, Lynda set her sights on New York University, earning a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in only three years.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Storytelling, Lynda says, makes history come alive.

“I wanted to perform, but I also wanted a regular job, too,” she says, adding that working her way through school prepared her for this duality.

For many years, she worked as a bartender between performances.

“It was the closest thing to being independently wealthy,” she says, adding that the money was so good that she only had to serve drinks two nights a week to pay her bills.

She took to New York’s fringe scene the way Hal took to the knitted cap.

A founding member of Gorilla Rep, which puts on free productions in outdoor venues, notably Central Park, Lynda has performed with the Faux-Real company for many years.

It was teaching children’s theater at the private Upper West Side Bank Street School that gave direction to Lynda’s career.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lynda came to New York City from Philadelphia when she was 17.

That job led to projects with other educational institutions, including the National Museum of the American Indian.

To perfect her teaching technique, Lynda went back to school, earning a master’s degree in education from the Bank Street College of Education and a doctorate in urban education from the CUNY Graduate Center.

Through the years, she continued to perform as she honed her storytelling skills at positions with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, The Gotham Center for New York City History, the Museum of the Moving Image and the New York City Department of Education.

Almost seven years ago, she became the vice president of education and evaluation for the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

She’s also on the board of Art House Astoria Conservatory for Music and Art.

Lynda, like Hal, excitedly seized each opportunity that came her way.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Hal, always innocent.

She loves “channeling ideas from theater into my museum work” to make history come alive.

“I want to help kids like me who have so much potential but don’t know how to get to the next step,” she says.

Lynda enjoys the creativity of the “interesting mix” of things she does.

“It feeds all of me,” she says.

Lynda still performs occasionally, and during the pandemic she appeared in Gorilla Rep’s adaptation of Macbeth, which was shot up-close via iPhones in isolation then edited together so it appears the characters are FaceTiming with the audience.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lynda has a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center.

She’s been tapped for the company’s upcoming version of Hamlet.

Hal’s starting to bounce around again.

Lynda leashes him up for a walk around the block.

She’s bound to have another story to tell about him by the time they return home.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling