We in the midwest are a large theatre community and many of us are in tremendous pain today over the tragic loss of so many of our own, very suddenly. With the devastating passing of Sati Word, Trinity Murdock, Joel Lambie, Molly Glynn and Bernie Yvon, we are left in genuine shock and disbelief. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It is unimaginable.
I had a performance last night, like so many others in our tribe. For some it was an opening night, some maybe closing, and for others, like me, – just another night in a run. It has been just over a year since I got word backstage here at American Players Theatre of the sudden tragic passing of Tayneshia Jefferson, an extraordinary theatre maker and friend.
Hanging on the wall, outside the doorway to my dressing room, is a production photo of the late, great Stephen Hemming. It’s a somber shot of him in deep contemplation, wearing a friar’s robe. Stephen passed away in 1996. I didn’t really know him, but was blessed as teenager to watch his work and even fortunate enough share an afternoon lunch and brief conversation with this generous, marvelous man. His short, but profound impact on me has lasted my entire career. Today, looking at his photo, remembering Tayneshia, thinking on all the grief stricken friends and family of the recently departed, memories of so many other people that have left our community over the years started to fill my heavy heart. Guy Adkins, Dan Loftus, Fritz Szabo… so many good, good folks. And then, one in particular popped up and made me actually smile. William Leach who, among many other extraordinary achievements, originated the role of Owen Musser in the Foreigner. Bill left a message for us all when he passed. He wanted us to “keep buggering on.” I loved that, ‘bugger on.”
Recently, in a beautifully eloquent memorial, Billy Crystal likened Robin Williams to a star so big that it’s light burns on long after it has died. An apt and lovely thought. I have shed many tears for men and women in my field over the years, both local and on the world’s stage. I remember crying in bed the day Jimmy Stewart passed, the shock of Christopher Reeves, Brittany Murphy, Bernie Mac, Phillip Seymour Hoffman… the list goes on. It’s true. Big, distant stars dazzle us long after they are gone. But here’s something I know about those nearer, smaller stars, our local stars… they provide us with that which is necessary for LIFE. Our local stars inspire us with breath and abundance of spirit. They warm us with generosity and open arms. Our local stars teach us how to love, how to honor, how to give and receive, how to share, how to BE. And when they burn out… their stardust lives on inside us all. Their memory sparkles in our tears, eventually our smiles, and always in our hearts. The big, bright, distant stars may dazzle our eyes, but it’s our local stars that keep us alive.
As I mentioned, I performed on stage last night; outdoors. The Importance of Being Earnest. Nearly everyone in the cast/crew in one way or another was effected by the tragedies of today and the previous week. The evening was perfectly crisp, the air still, and the sky full of stars. The music began. The lights shifted into focus. The actors stepped onto stage in front of a thousand people and the first joke of the night EXPLODED into boisterous laughter. We were set free, soaring into a tradition that has spanned the centuries of humankind. I honestly don’t know if our going “on with the show” would have been what Molly, Bernie, Sati, Trinity, Joel, and all would have wanted us to do. I can’t speak for them in that way, but what I do know is that given the chance… they would have done it. They lived. They loved. They brought us life. For that, I am profoundly altered and eternally grateful.
Right now some of our local stars are burning overtime to warm us all and to keep one another afloat (Joe Foust, Matt Raftery, Elizabeth Laidlaw, Melanie Keller, Lindsey Pearlman, and so many more saints). Thank God for them. They are doing what they were born to do… continuing a legacy of life and love, while standing vigil over the memories of our friends. Give them some of your own light, they need it. Share it. Spread it all around. Visit and contribute to the trusts set up to support the families of Lennal Sati Word, Joel Lambie, Bernie Yvon, and Molly Glynn.
“Keep buggering on.”
I love you all.