Saturday, September 01, 2007

I miss you already

I found out this morning that on Wednesday, my theatre director (and one of my favorite teachers, mentors, and, in later life, friends) died. She had stage IV breast cancer and finally succumbed. Ironically, she retired about two years ago, and upon retirement, finally sought a doctor's opinion about aches she had had in her back, which was when they found the cancer. After chemo, radiation and a mastectomy, I guess they decided there was nothing left to do. The last time I saw here, several months ago in Kroger near where we used to live, she looked happy but tired. She had had her surgery already and was wearing a baseball cap to cover her lack of hair. I asked how things were going and she said that she was still fighting, that she had to get the results of her latest round of treatment. I guess that's when she found out her prognosis. The notice from the Sycamore Theatre Arts Group Boosters said that donations can be made to Hospice of Cleveland, so I'm guessing she returned home to her family for help and comfort in her final months.

In her memory, I am posting the words I wrote for her and gave to her on the occasion of her retirement. I loved her very much, admired her immensely, and I'm beyond sad that she is gone. My only comfort is that she isn't suffering any more, and David, one of her students who was two years ahead of me and was also very close to her, and who died two years ago from pneumonia, is in heaven with her, and they are doing pretty spectacular theatre together.

Things my theatre director taught me…

About theatre

Duct tape can fix almost anything.

Be nice to lighting, sound and tech people. They’re the ones that make you look and sound good.

If you believe it, it will happen… including 45 second scene changes. (Peter Pan 1988)

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just make sure you really want to know the answer.

Wheatpaste is gloppy and stinky but it can work wonders.

A can of nails and a spotlight can provide hours of entertainment.

A little healthy competition is a good thing.

Write down your blocking the first time it’s given. There won’t be a second time. And your director will get really mad if you don’t write it down the first time. (Into the Woods 1991)

Always have a pencil during rehearsals and notes. Always.

It is possible to handle nine costume changes during a 90 minute show, even when one of them is a camel. (Joseph… Dreamcoat 1990)

Little Red Ridinghood isn’t always sarcastic. (Into the Woods 1991)

There’s no such thing as too much hairspray. There is such a thing as too much blush and too much blue eyeshadow.

Smile, even if you don’t feel like it. Fake it ‘til you make it. (Touring Company)

Selling more ads will get you a bigger, glossy program.

It takes a team effort to get anything worthwhile accomplished.

Most of the time, what you do backstage matters a heck of a lot more than what you do on stage.

About Life

Self-esteem isn’t a constant. It goes up and down every day, sometimes numerous times within the day. The trick is finding a space between the ups and downs.

A little fear can inspire a healthy level of respect that lasts.

When in doubt, open your eyes really wide and do the “potty dance.” You’ll get a laugh every time.

It’s hard to choose just one memory from my years in the theatre program at SHS to write about, but there is one that keeps coming back, even though it has nothing to do with the craft of theatre. It is a “life lesson” that I learned from you during a particularly rough time in my high school life, and one that I’ve never forgotten and, in fact, often returned to when I needed clarity in my choices.

I came into the Little Theatre right before acting class, after having just gotten a paper back in English with a grade that I wasn’t happy about. The paper was the final incident in a whole host of things that had gone wrong for me that week, that month and that year. I threw my books across the table and they landed on the floor, causing an abrupt break in the lunchtime conversations being held at various points on stage and off. Instead of yelling at me or telling me to calm down or sending me to the office, you took me to your office and gave me a piece of paper. You told me to write down everything that was bothering me, even if class started while I was still working. Then you shut the door.

The list I made went down one side of the page and halfway down the back. When you came back in to check how I was doing, you gave me a second assignment. To split the list in two—listing on one side all the things I had control over changing, and on the other all the things that were out of my control. Then you went out again. I poured over the list, trying to decide what I could change and what I truly could not, and gradually beginning to understand the wordless message you were sending me.

You took the list and I tried to immerse myself back in class, back into my life.

Several months later, near graduation, you handed me a sealed envelope. You either wrote on it or said to me “it’s important to know the difference. Remember that.” I opened the envelope and found my list, the words I had written at the breaking point. The several months intervening had allowed me to gain perspective and to look at my life through different eyes. Some of the problems seemed petty; others were still very real. But I never forgot the lesson.

So many times since then, I have made mental, if not physical, lists. So many times your advice has helped me regain my footing in a world that continued to challenge me. Now that things are steady, and have been for some time, I don’t need to do as much listing. I know more by instinct and I can just say “that’s out of my control and that’s okay.”

So I pass the message along—to students when I was teaching, to friends who are struggling with problems in their lives, and eventually, to my children when they are faced with multiple challenges.

And from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. I thank you for your wisdom and your guidance. I think you for helping me learn to help myself when I could and seek help when I could not. I thank you for having patience. I thank you for teaching me so much—about theatre, about working with people and about life. The gifts you have given me are invaluable.

Enjoy your retirement. You’ve earned every moment of it. And if you ever for one moment doubt the impact you have had on any of your students’ lives, remember me and my list. I know that I will never forget.

1 comment:

Applecart T. said...

oh. (elongated, long-o sound, which can not be typed without creating semantic misunderstanding). . .

i knew i had to be at home to read this. (cry.)

i'm sorry you lost your friend. 58 is not old enough.

i remember your talking about her before. the list lesson is priceless, largely because it was demonstrated, not merely told (things my english teachers taught us. . . : ) show, don't tell/or, know when exposition is right and when it's not - it's a mystery you can't explain and you'll know it when you've got it).

thank you for sharing this.

(leshanah tovah tiktavi vetichtami - shoot me if i'm being totally inappropriate, but i am aware you'll be thinking about spiritual things for a while now and am mindful of your mindfulness, if that makes any sense.)

i would like to go play with some nails and a spotlight now.