Once again it has been a while. A lot has happened. We finished a class sequence on Ibsen and Chekhov and ended with an open rehearsal we called “Subject for a short story….” A line from Seagull. As many people know my teacher and mentor Earle Gister died on January 23rd right before the Othello Project phase 1. I went to his memorial service last Monday in NYC, my hometown. The service began with Tusenbach’s speech about the trees to Irina. The same speech I read at my mom’s memorial about a year before. Earle and my mom both died at age 78. Both died prematurely from complications due to alcoholism. J. Michael Miller, Earle’s best friend and creator of The Actors’ Center in NYC, the company that I modeled some of Visionbox after, spoke beautifully of Earle’s weakness but mostly of his strength and power with actors. He gave hundreds of actors and directors a simple and deep way to work on text and the creating of behavior and life on stage. Any one I have had the pleasure of working with knows the famous five questions are Earle’s. It was a very profound experience for all of us. And for me personally it was also very deep. I remembered my mom during it and I know it helped me with that grief. I remembered Earle and most of all I remembered where I came from. My home in New York theatre and my training at Yale. Twice..
The most moving part of it all to me was the humility and gratefulness of everyone. Noone spoke of themselves as can happen in our business..understatement…but instead spoke of Earle’s profound influence on their work and careers. In the end what I felt was this celebration of the beauty of a life in the theatre. Of purpose and excellence and more than once the pay it forward concept was at the center of the conversation.
Then the friendships. The ones Meryl Streep spoke of. I saw people I have not seen at all in 25 years. As if it was truly a few hours ago that we had worked together or just hung out. I had a five hour big chill dinner in a diner with a few friends. We told stories about Earle and school and spoke about our personal lives. Families, children, illnesses tragedies etc. I felt so comfortable and peaceful and happy to be with the people that know me in the deepest way through the work itself. And again I was struck by the ability to endure Nina talks of in Seagull. That we had all been through stuff, even really hard stuff, but we all had our training and our work to sustain and comfort us. And give us faith.
I came home very convinced more than ever that I am not crazy to devote the next chapter of my life to this company. I am proud of the work we have done so far and we have already a sense of fellowship and common purpose. And the quality of the people and the talent is excellent.
In the end I was left with this one story. Dana Smith, a powerful leading woman from my class 1987 told a story about Yoko Ono. In college she went to some art installation at a museum created by Yoko. She had to climb up some ladder to a small door in the top of a wall and open it. She thought it sounded kind of stupid but she did it any way. When she opened the door inside was the word “YES”. Just yes.
So I will try to practice this more in the work. to listen, to turn noone away, to say yes more often than no. And to pursue the excellence of my training with out the elitism that can accompany it.
So today once again I am so grateful. To my mom for her belief in my passion and her pushing me to go to the schools I went to. To Earle for the technique and belief in me personally. Treves, the doctor of the Elephant Man, wrote of his teacher in medical school. He said the greatest gift a teacher can give to his students is himself. Earle gave that to me. So did Gerry, Tony, Nikos and Israel. And I hope that is what my students and friends will remember most about me.