Friday, December 12, 2008

Under Construction

I apologize for the unattractive template at the moment. I had to do some rearranging with tutorials due to requirements to keep up with my ad obligations. Laura from Blogher was very nice and helpful with a tutorial site. Unfortunately, the site didn't choose to give examples from my template so I after hunting, pecking, and cursing my way through several attempts, I had to let my fuchsia go. I am in much need of sleep now, and since the blog is once again ad friendly, I can retire and try next week. Til then, sorry for the strange golden orange color that clashes with my beautiful Buddha pic (which is completely off center but try as I might at nearly 2 am, I cannot reconcile it to change it's position. You see, I am in desperate need of template tutorials that have the exact same codes as whatever template I'm using, and darn it if none of them ever seem to.)

Argh. To be somewhat computer literate. T'is a blessing and a curse (hunt and peck.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Today's Quote
Forgiveness means giving up
all hope of a better past.

-Landrum Bolling

Friday, December 05, 2008

Prop 8~ The Musical

Ok, this may be a theatre thing, but personally I think this is fantastic. What a cast!!!!

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Actor's (Not Quite Nightmare) Profoundly Deep Dream

I had a dream about Fry Tuesday night. It started out like one I've had before, most recently over this past summer. Sort of an "Actor's Nightmare" where you're at the theatre but don't know what you're doing there, or on stage and can't remember the show you're in, the lines you are supposed to be saying, and everyone else acts as though you should and do.

This one was about acting class rather than performance- a situation that would be more uncomfortable than nightmarish for me. I wonder if other professions have "nightmares"? Like a teacher's nightmare where you don't know the school, the class or the material. Or the Dr's nightmare where you're doing a surgery that you've not been trained to do. Sorry- that's an interesting tangent to explore another time!

We were in the conference room. I didn't recognize anyone else, but Fry was there, however, he didn't realize he had passed away. He was irritated that everyone was ignoring him. No one was listening to him or doing what he told them to do, because they couldn't hear or see him. It was very "Scroogish", like when the ghosts transport him around the past, present, and future and he yells at the people in the scenes he's being shown, or even at his former/future self, but no one can hear him.

Except in this case, I was the only one who could. Throughout the dream this predicament was only slightly unsettling for me, odd given the fact that in real life if Fry walked into the conference room and talked to me now that he's gone...I would really think I'd lost it.

Anyway, once Fry figured out I could hear him, he started rattling off all these directions for me- how to teach, what to cover, what the others needed corrected on, etc. Meanwhile I frantically ran around trying to fulfill his wishes and convey his directions to the class, who all looked at me like, "Who do you think you are, BILL FRY????"

Dreams for me are like plays, where you are mid action/line/emotion, and BOOM! Lights out/back up in another scene entirely.

We were in my car, my OLD car, my parents' old car actually. Ford Fairmont, shit brown to match the rust. I was giving him a ride home to his apartment. I did this many times in real life (many of us did- Fry never had a driver's license) so it's wasn't so strange to be in the car with him. He puffed away at his More cigarette (dark brown menthols in the green box. Do you know why so many actors smoke menthols? Because actors are poor and mooch cigs off everyone, and most actors HATE menthol cigarettes, so if you are a cheap actor who can get used to them you are more likely to discourage other cheap actors from stealing/mooching them off of you.)

Sorry. Back to task.

We chatted on the ride home, Fry seemingly still oblivious that he was no longer of this world.

Well...Fry never was "of this world" to start with- so far the dream wasn't all that odd.

Then we arrived at his apartment. Here's the weird part. I asked to come up. And he said yes. Now...I don't think I ever asked, and I know I was never invited into Fry's apartment. I've always been insanely curious as to what it was like (his office was terrible- ashes everywhere, books falling off the shelves, etc) so I just wondered how he lived. I pictured highly disheveled, books stacked to the ceiling, photos stuffed in between them...

But in my dream, the place was very tidy. At least the kitchen was, and that's really all the further I went.

I know that Fry's real life apartment would not have a basement, but in my dream it did. And he opened the door to show me that because there was something about it that was upsetting him he wanted me to look at.

I peeked down the stairs, and saw a several actors, in period (Where's Charlie?) costume, strolling around, in some fog, with lots of lights (Rick Lombardo show????) One woman with a 1900's dress and parasol, saw us and motioned for Fry to come down there. I felt it was an after life/otherworldly place, and knew I couldn't go with him. I started to say, "He doesn't know yet-" and the woman raised her hand up slowly, finger to her lips...

shhhhhhhhhh.....inaudible as a mime.

Then she smiled warmly to me and nodded that she understood, and gave me a pleading look, inquiring if I could help him down.

I looked at Fry.

He stood peering down to the stage full of actors needing direction, like he knew somehow he needed to get down to them, but was unsure of his footing on the basement stairs.

He hesitated, not ready to go.

Then he turned back toward me, his hand still on the door knob, looking as though he couldn't decide if he should shut it in front of or behind himself.

Again the woman looked at me for help, and I could feel how much they were waiting for him. That they needed him...and it was where he needed to be.

I looked at him, started to cry and said,

"I love you Fry. I'm sorry I never told you before."

He hugged me, holding onto me tightly before pulling back away.

Then he said, "Oh Jennifer...I know that. And you know I always loved you too."

Then he walked down the stairs, and disappeared with the rest of the cast who were awaiting him.

And I woke up.


I do love you Fry.
And I do know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Monday morning I woke up feeling out of sorts. It's the same feeling I have always experienced when a show ends, a really fantastic ensemble piece, and we strike the stage. The set is dismantled, the costumes returned to the rack outside the wardrobe room to be cleaned and rehung for another show. The dressing rooms are wiped clean. All that remains as evidence of the production are the memories of those who performed, worked, or saw the show. Everyone takes part in strike, with few exceptions for age and frailty, before anyone can enjoy the cast party (otherwise everyone is enjoying the food, and two people are tearing down the set.)

Then comes the party. A celebration of a job well done, either at the theatre or when we were really lucky, at the fantastic estate of Kathleen and Bill (Doc) Howland, complete with swimming pool and trampoline for summer shows, and a basement with a pinball machine for winter ones. Oh- yeah and peacocks and ostriches running around the compound.

My good friend Patric, the one in the middle with the glasses, used to cry at the cast party.
Heather Howland (on the right of this photo rehearsing Pied Piper with Lisa Kurtz), who was Kathleen's daughter and occupant of the aforementioned residence, reminded me so in an email the other day. I used to feel so bad for Patric. I had been doing shows since the age of 5, so I didn't quite get why he was so sad. Maybe it was just his first show, I reasoned, and he'll realize that you just immediately audition for the next one, and within a week of rehearsals it will be just as fun, with new friends and some old, as the last play. But I recall Patric crying at the end of most of the shows we did together those first few seasons, and I felt helpless to console him because I really didn't understand it.

However, as I grew older, and had a few magical moments with cast, crew, director myself, I began to grasp why Patric mourned the end of the show.

Fry's Memorial was Sunday night. Waves of nostalgia came to me the weeks before scanning all those pictures. In a way, I felt I was living through all those rehearsals, classes, performances, strikes, and cast parties once more. Then the Memorial came, the show if you will, with an audience filled up with many of those same characters, now all grown up, grown older, than they were the last time we shared the stage.

And of course I cried off and on throughout the evening, like Patric at a cast party.

I haven't done so myself for every show I've ever worked on. But as Patric grew out of it, I seem to have grown into it. As I get older, my teachers, parents of my friends, and some friends of my own have left me. Now each season, whether they be of the theatrical or literal kind, feels like a gift to drink in, savor, fully soak up, and then tuck away for reminiscing and waxing poetic later.

In Fry's Arena, an actor, director, or stage manager, were fully involved throughout the production. The crew, who often came from the acting class groups, ventured in during tech week and were instantly equally vested. When the stage was struck, everyone who had occupied your every spare moment for days, weeks, or months slipped silently (or not) out of the stage door one last time. You knew you would never again be in the same room together as an ensemble, and were left feeling a mixture of relief and mourning, the degrees of which depended on just how wonderful or horrible the experience was.

When it was the right combination of cast, crew, direction, and character, the loss can put you in an incredible funk the first few days you resume your "day job" life.
There were a few standouts in my Junior/Youth theatre days-
A Christmas Carol

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

The Homecoming

Pied Piper

Little Women

and The Butterfingers Angel, etc.

But I usually applied that "just throw yourself into the next show" theory to chase the post show blues away.

In adulthood, there have only been a few such times -Anne of Green Gables,

Jesus Christ Superstar (at the Guild),

The Glass Menagerie
(with Kathleen directing, my mom as my Mother, and Keith and Tom from Fry's class with me) and

The Miracle Worker (at Kent Stark), after which I got into my car to leave the theatre the last night, and cried the whole way home.


I wasn't ready to let the show, the people, my character, or the moment go. I knew walking to my car, before even pulling out of the parking lot, that the show, the cast, the experience was a rare, fantastic, magical moment in my life, and had already become a memory that will fill me with longing for years to come. You never know if it was the last time that will happen. And after going back to college for my BA, and burning myself out working or acting in nearly every production at Stark for a few seasons, combined with working full time, single motherhood, the play ending usually fell into the relief category. I have not done a show in over five years. That's never happened to me before. And sometimes I fear my curtain has done called.


That same feeling of strike, has haunted me the past few weeks, whenever I connect with a Junior/Youth Theatre alum, and start talking shop. By last week, as I sat in Fry's office sorting through and scanning pictures, the waves caught up with me in a flood of nostalgic loss. Not just for Fry.

It was seeing all the kids I was "raised" with, in the photos, trapped in time, in black and white, mid sentence in improv or rehearsal, building a "machine" in class, constructing a set, learning to apply their makeup. It was Pat Hemphill adjusting a costume, Fry and Kathleen, in their late 30's I imagine, on stage together in The Gingerbread Lady. I sent that picture to Heather, who responded that it was her mom's first play at the Guild, and her first time working with Fry. It was a meeting of minds that would grow to a best friendship for the rest of their lives.

There was a picture of my brother, pre-accident, the only clear figure in a "whirling" exercise or dance of some sort, while everyone else was a blur around him.
And there was another of him and his best friend Geoff Mize doing a scene for rehearsal or class.

Frozen in time.

I could just sit there all day frozen along with them- an awkward 12 year old, wishing to be grown up and join in with her older brothers and their fabulous peers- to me the "Greatest Generation" of kids to grace Fry's stage. At least to the watchful eyes of a 12 year old on the brink of adolescence, a year before tragedy would likely freeze so much of that time for me, as the time "before"-

Before the accident took my older brother from us
Before my mother had to quit her dreams to care for him
Before all those kids grew up, left town, moved on.

And after...
I remember a sadness in that theatre, as the news of the accident spread throughout the day during classes, me sharing it with those who hadn't heard yet. I recall it was the annual costume sale, and I was sad my mom wasn't there so I could buy some of my old costumes like we always did. Classes and plays continued, "the show must go on,"but the first of many ghosts, a classmate dead the other disabled for life, had already befallen our small family like company of players.

That sadness followed us, followed me the next few years of shows. It wasn't truly healed until I came back in my 20's, rejoined Fry's class and made a new generation of friendships.

I have been pining for the Players Guild since I left the second time, to pursue other theatre experiences and gain my BA in the subject at the Kent Stark Theatre. And I made many lifelong friends there as well. But with Fry's death I feel a need to return "home" as I said in the other blogs.

But how?

How when there are so many ghosts in those halls for me...

some literal- Kathleen, Pat Hemphill, now Fry...
Others figurative- my brother, our cast/classmates, tech directors, artistic directors, fellow actors and crew members...all moved on.

Damn Fry and that all that sensory memory stuff he taught us. All I have to do is ring the buzzer and have someone buzz me in- it starts right there. Then if someone's pounding together a set, if lines are being read, if there's a sewing machine stitching, if I smell sawdust- Ha! Dust in general- make-up, hairspray, feel the velvet of a curtain...

I am instantly transported to another time, another place.

And up until last month someone would be there who knew, who remembered it all with me.

How to put that all behind me? Audition? Do another show, meet new people
make new memories?


It came to me this week, when responding to an email from Fry's niece, Barb, to whom I had given my blog and email address at the Memorial Sunday night. I had wanted to talk to her at his graveside service last month, but never having met them I didn't feel it was the right time. We are the same age, and both writers! Heather has said she can just see Fry in Heaven, sitting around smoking cigarettes catching up with Kathleen, Pat, and Maggy, while Gretchen reminds him to hit the ashtray with his ashes (for God's sake!) And from that table, it would seem that Fry is still directing me, arranging yet another new friendship somehow.

Thanks Fry.

"VERY Good!!!! There! there! there!"

Barb wrote to tell me that she read and enjoyed my blogs about her uncle, very gracious if you ask me, since I'm so long winded. ;) She also asked if and what I was teaching at the Guild. I replied I hadn't even approached anyone in a position to make it happen about that possibility yet. In all honesty, the prospect of teaching one class to honor a man I took thousands of classes from seems daunting. Where the heck to start?

Later in the day I started mulling it over again. Was there anything we didn't cover? Was there something I wished we had at the time?

I thought of all the amazing classes, and eclectic instructors he snagged for us-

Lare Sattler for Juggling
My mom and Anne Meiser for puppeteering
Kathleen for classic theatre
Lauren Landis for mime
Jim Brothers for Tae Kwon Do
Duane Brubaugh for make up
Karen Ziemba (tony winner!) for dance (Will never forget that Tapico song!)

Then it came to me. As a young writer, the one thing in all those years we never did and I always wanted to-

Playwriting- monologues, scenes, one acts...

How obvious!
And of course instantly the lesson plans fell into place.
I am typing up my resume now!

Barb wrote to me about her writing. She's been published in Renaissance magazine, something I'm sure made her uncle, a closet poet and playwright, very proud. She said after the family's had a chance to read through the poems, she would be happy to get together with me to read them.


What an honor that would be.

Maybe we can use them in the class somehow.

I think Fry would really like that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tribute to Bill Fry

When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is,
and respect for what he may become.

-Louis Pasteur

I found this quote yesterday morning, as I was trying to dig back in to everyday normal life- dishes needed done, laundry for 6, and soon to be 3 Anna wanted some attention back from her mommy's constant computer work scanning pictures, and finding and writing to old friends.

I needed a day or so to gather my thoughts and wits about me, to do this latest blog (but I'm sure not the last, as writing this one turned into a draft for the next) about the Memorial Service Sunday evening for my late teacher, Bill Fry.

It's no small task to write about a man who likely shaped my life more than any other person I have ever known. Even more impressive he did so completely unintentionally, and likely unknowingly, though I hope the latter's not the case.

The quote impressed upon me, a very Fry-esq theory of teaching theatre, and life lessons in general, to kids. I have been trying to help my husband understand just what was so amazing and unique about a childhood in the theatre, community theatre in particular, Fry's youth theatre program in specific.

I finally came up with this- I know of no other arena in life, where adults and children become peers, equals, cohorts, friends, as they do in the theatre. Not all of them, of course. There are grouchy adults and precocious children who can't get along anywhere. But for the rest of us, no where in the world save the stage, can we all stand together, and share the responsibility of a production's success or it's failure. I remember when I was tiny, around 5, that adults herded us from dressing room to green room to stage and back again so we wouldn't miss a cue. I witnessed this with Tiny Tim in my adult stint of Christmas Carol.

But by the age of 8, I was on my own for entrances and exits, for memorizing my blocking and lines, showing up on time, making my entrances on cue, and saving a scene from someone's else's missed line.

I had larger parts than adults, smaller parts than younger kids, no parts and handled props, worked lights, painted sets....

Right alongside adults doing the same things.

And at the post rehearsal/production gatherings- Tim's Tavern, John's Bar, Ruslees, Butlers, Taggarts, Sparta Lounge...

Got kicked out with everyone else, whether it had been the adults or the kids that got out of hand and ornery.

Where else in the world do you have all that?

Sunday night was very hard. I saw people I had seen off and on the past 20 years, one or two I hadn't seen since 10th grade, and a few I may never see again.

And we all know that ensemble won't likely ever be gathered together again in the same theatre in my lifetime.

The night started with a reception given by Fry's family, nieces I had seen at the funeral.

The upper lobby was packed with people from every decade since the Players Guild opened in 1970. There were folks I didn't expect to see, and some missing I was counting on reconnecting with. I hoped those in the latter group all knew about it and had some reason they couldn't come, but I feared that not everyone found out in time to make it who wanted to. I had been busy trying to track down everyone I could think of, but was still thinking of a few more on Sunday.

We all settled into our seats and heard speakers- Joe Martuccio MC'd and kept the night flowing from tribute to tribute.

Carla Derr gave a very poignant speech about Fry, only losing her emotional hold when she said,

"I love you Fry and I will miss you..."
I'm sure I was not alone when my grip slipped emotionally right along with her.

Then the cast of Quilters and Nunsense sang a few of their songs from two of his favorite shows. Toots didn't think she could do it, but of course her training and talent won out and she made it through.

Fry's niece Barb has inherited some of her uncle's wit and perfect comedic timing. She started off talking about always seeing her uncle as "one of those theatre people" to the family, which of course had the biggest laugh of the night. Her thoughts on her uncle were profoundly heartfelt. And I wished we had known his family as much as she said they wished they had known him.

Joe presented a gift of all Fry's poems to Barb and her sister, some of which had been read throughout the night. A few were full of grace and beauty, a couple full of "piss and vinegar." (Side note-I gotta get a copy of that "Now my Cockles only Cackle every other day" one. I can remember him rattling that one off, in the green room, out of the blue so many times. I don't know that I knew then that he actually wrote it- at 38 no less, two full years younger than me!)

Jodi Wilson, the board President-elect, spoke as well, moving me to tears again, briefly sharing her life long history at the Guild having been under Fry's direction countless times. She also announced what we were all hoping for, that the Arena theatre (a name that always sort of irritated Fry because it's wasn't actually accurate for a three sided theatre) will from now on be

The William G. Fry Theatre

(though I think for some of us it will be "Fry's Arena" for short. There! There! There!)

David Sponhour narrated a fabulous slide show, while Steve Parsons played magic on the piano. Pictures covering the history of the Guild according to Fry, on stage
and off, images of kids in shows- learning, maturing, growing and moving forward, while Fry watched, taught, and learned as much as the lessons he shared, for the last 35 years.

Elizabeth Mapp read Heather Howland Bobbit's letter about Fry and Kathleen's dream turned reality of creating an incredible, safe, disciplined, creative theatrical environment for kids to learn about theatre and about life.

Erin Ianni read a touching tribute to Fry for her mother MaryLou, who didn't think she'd be able to read it herself. And I realized at that moment that though I had at first wanted to speak as well Sunday night, I never tried very hard to let anyone know it. I just knew all my professionalism would have turned to mush the minute I tried to put my love for Fry into words in front of an audience. Fry did it at Kathleen's funeral service, and I just don't know how he managed. I guess he was just that good. :)

Rabbi Spitzer spoke, shared a letter from his son that summed it all up perfectly. In the letter, Gabe Spitzer reminisced of a rehearsal where a young cast member did something "unmentionable with his nose, then showed it to the rest of us..." the rehearsal came to a screeching halt, as everyone laughed hysterically. According to Gabe, Fry just sat there, waiting for all of them to wear themselves out, then said something like, " put that energy back into your performance..." I'm paraphrasing but you get the gist of it. All of us had a "giggly" rehearsal almost every show, and Fry knew by instinct to let it play out, pass, and then move on from it.

These things are what made him a genius of a teacher.

When the Tribute ended a few of us mentioned Tim's Tavern. My brother Jef and I headed over there, where only Keith Berger, Jane Lasse, and Barry Wakser were gathered. It seemed empty, for even if no one else wanted to go out after rehearsal, Fry would join anyone who would have his company, smoke a More cigarette, and talk about theatre.

We discussed the history of the Guild, the need to archive the history while there are still people around who recognize the performers and the plays in all those pictures. We discussed the future of theatre education at the Guild, how we all took all those amazing classes for granted. How you must be forward thinking, but not forget the lessons of the past. If it's not broken don't fix it, and if it is, when did it break, what was abandoned that should be brought back, etc.

I left there feeing loss, inspiration, gratitude, and determination. More on where I'm headed with all of those tomorrow.

It was a fabulous tribute to an incredible life. Amazing that a man who led a very simple existence, didn't own a car, walked to work every day of his life, and made a living doing something he loved, could have made such a deep and profound connection to so may people, and shaped so many lives. I'll say it again-

There never was a more contented soul.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Wink and A Nod from Fry

So no sh#t there I was, checking my email last week. One of my old theatre friends, one of my last, close friends on staff at the Players Guild, sent me a message with the subject:

"Pics of you with Bill Fry."

My heart skipped a beat. I thought perhaps she found some old pictures of us from rehearsals or classes, or in costume. I hoped she found the picture of us from his birthday party, but I really thought that was a long shot. I wrote back to say I'd stop by the next day to check them out.

I took Anna with me to the theatre on Wed afternoon. We entered the stage door, as I have a million times since I was 5, only now I can almost easily reach the buzzer to be let in (it's still a stretch, but I remember a time before I could hit it myself.) We heard pounding from the main stage to our right, and I took Anna in to say hi to Craig (the current tech director.) Craig is another old theatre friend, though for me he represents Kent Stark rather than the Guild, as the Stark stage is where we met and did most of our shows together. He also was one of my young guy friends who helped me tremendously while I was a single mom, mowing my lawn for me several times a summer so I wouldn't have to kill myself trying to keep up.

Then Anna and I headed down the perilous stairs that kids have been tripping down for generations, though a few decades ago the Guild did invest in some stair grips to help (but I still held onto Anna and the railing tightly.)

We went into the secretary's area. This used to be a very posh little office for Gretchen Kloes, the PG's secretary throughout most of my youth. Gretchen was very organized and had beautiful shelves full of interesting objects, as well as a sliding dividing panel that locked the office up completely when she left. I believe the panel fell by the wayside years ago, and now the office area is overstuffed with cubicles, shoving two other desks for other staff members in there. Sad to see it now all crowded and unkempt.

Gretchen was quite fond of me (like I said I USED to be this tiny shy and polite little waif once upon a time.) She would always let me (but not the other more precocious kids) look at her fascinating collection of large geodes that she had on the shelves. I thought they were magical with all their light refracting facets-surely more precious than diamonds, and I handled them with the utmost care and respect.

Gretchen retired when she became ill with cancer. She bravely fought it many years and passed away a long time ago.

I sometimes think the Guild's Golden Age walked out the door with Gretchen. She was a force to be reckoned with, ran a tight ship, took crap from no one, and oversaw the care of that facility, brand new when she started there, as if it was her own home.

I didn't see my friend Carrie behind her cubicle, just an older woman (secretary?) who I believe was Janet Barry, the wife of Nick, the actor formerly known as Scrooge throughout the 1980's.

Then Carrie popped out from her desk, and handed me an envelope. Most were pictures of me and castmates from Anne of Green Gables (1991) that I had taken on my own camera and given the doubles to Fry.

But the last pic...

Was taken 5 years ago at his 70th b-day party. There I am, very thin, full of single mom/working full time/theatre BA pursuit, with a very proud looking teacher.

It is a fabulous picture, isn't it?

I don't always believe in everything about that "Secret" stuff- you know, put your request out to the universe and it will happen sorta thing. But, my friend found this picture, and hadn't even read my blog to know I had been looking for it.


All I have to say is...

Thanks Fry. And just so you know it will be on my desk, when I have my own cubicle somewhere in the depths of theatre catacombs while I'm teaching kids the lessons learned from years of careful and accidental study with you. ;)

Carrie and Josh, the Managing Director there, have allowed me another honor. I will be taking my scanner down there next week and scanning all the other pictures Fry left in his office so I can send many of them off to any of my former Junior/Youth theatre classmates I can find. The past few years I've attempted to get in contact with my former Players Guild Youth Theatre alumni, hoping to host a reunion while Fry was still around to take part in and enjoy it. Regrettably, I was busy, disorganized, with other projects always landing in the way of that one.

I had located one man, Dallas Hardcastle, on, but hadn't heard back from him or his older brother Terry. I only knew Dallas briefly, from a few plays and classes he took part in, but was much closer to Terry.

We met in one of Fry's classes when we were around nine years old. The last time I saw or spoke with Terry we were in high school. Then he moved on to professional theatre throughout the US, where he's had a lovely career. I got married, had kids, got divorced, went back to school, got remarried, had a has changed a lot since we last spoke. So has Terry's voice, which is why when I received a voice mail from him on my way into the theatre, I had to listen to the message twice to really believe it was him.

My mom, my brother and myself all have contact with several of my Youth Theatre friends or their parents, and I started a Yahoo Group a while back hoping others would search us out. It fizzled, and I never got back on task. But I think of all of them often, as we really were such an extended family all those seasons. To me those people represent my childhood, my adolescence, my therapists, my gurus, my mentors, my friends. And even though I am still determined to host such a reunion...the loss of Fry's presence will make for a heavier night than it could have been.

Life does always find a way to intervene those best intentions, doesn't it?
And when it does, we wait for death and loss to inspire.

I haven't talked to Terry yet, as we have played phone tag all week. As soon as I post the final draft of this, I will be trying his number again, and this time won't let anything deter me from speaking with him.

I had fully intended to call Terry back while I was reminiscing in Fry's office, so I could start our conversation with, "You'll never guess where I Fry's office looking at a picture of you from Butterfinger's Angel..."

But, I underestimated the effect of the theatre, the office, the pictures, the scripts, and Anna's patience level for being in the "bowels of the theatre" as Fry like to call them.

Fry's office was formerly a tiny storage room called the Triangle Room, for it's shape and lack of any foreseeable function in it's design. We used it for props that belonged to or were currently in use for youth theatre my brothers and their friends likely used it for other more secretive purposes (damn teenagers!)

It became his office around the time I became a teenager, so I am not privy to any other "functions" it served, with the exception of being the only approved designated smoking room after the Guild became a smoke free building in the 90's. I have a feeling that was quite a heated campaign between the pro smokers Fry and Pat Hemphill (the then costumer) and the pro- smoke free facility since it was years before state law would mandate it anyway. In the end they compromised on two unlikely designated smoking areas- the wardrobe room and Fry's office, with only paid staff allowed to smoke in them. Now having your only designated smoking areas be a room filled with costumes to be damaged or ignited, and another about 3 x 5 feet, with no ventilation leads me to believe the board knew it had some good people it couldn't afford to lose over cigarettes. And though smoking rights were to be for staff only, fry gave sanctuary to other smokers, especially in the dead of winter. A few times I tried to hang out in there myself, but the smoke was so thick you didn't need one of your own to be smoking.

And now, as Anna immediately pointed out to me when we went in there...

"Mommy this room smells funny!"

She didn't like it in there. There wasn't much to do, just old nicotine filled scripts and ghostly black and white photos of students gone by.

It was a convenient and private office for Fry, not just for smoking as he was still able to do that anywhere in the theatre when the office was Christened his domain. He had formerly been upstairs where at least a little natural light coming in the first floor entry door and two story windows, could bounce it's way down those treacherous stairs and into the office hallway. In contrast, Fry's triangle room office was devoid of ANY light save the incandescent one, or a lamp he put in there so it could be darker and less distracting during performances. Before his office moved down there, he could only watch from the audience (helpless in a crisis) or in an uncomfortable metal chair backstage of the alcove entrance. Most directors leave the show to the stage manager after it opens, which a good thing sometimes, as I have worked with those who can't handle the mishaps without blowing a gasket. And several miserable times I have worked backstage with a few directors who have shown me my share of glares or lectures for fubars that inevitably accompany live theatre performances. But...

I never remember once in thirty plus times of working with him, a similar experience from Fry. Even though he was there every night just in case, he always let the stage manager/cast/crew handle any unexpected "drama" calmly waiting to discuss what happened if necessary before the next show in an attempt to avoid an undesired repeat performance.

I have seen him annoyed, perplexed, impassioned, disgusted...

But never angry. And now that I have teens and am around teens and am in my 40's I must say for that alone that Bill Fry may have been the greatest actor of all time.

He taught many, turned off some, but in the end affected most of us more than any other teacher we ever will have.

There was a lot of closure in that office last Wed. There will be even more at the memorial service next Sunday I'm sure.

We all need that when we lose someone, especially those who's meaning in our lives we can never grasp until they aren't around anymore to share it with them.

After the picture I had never seen surfaced, Terry left me a message, and then I spent an afternoon re-living my amazing childhood onstage...

I feel like I'm entering the III Act of my Players Guild career. The stage was set in Act I, the plot was furthered in Act II, and now the purpose comes with Act III. Ok that's a bit cheesy I know...

It would have made Fry roll eyes, say "Oh GOD don't be CUTE Jennifer. (Laughing) There! There! There!"

It's time for me to make good on a promise I made to Fry the last few times I saw him - one of those times right before that picture was taken. I am finding my way back home, to teach kids theatre, the way Bill Fry taught me. Now that he's gone, I feel the baton must truly be passed. I could get in a few other smaller theatres I'm sure, who due to their overhead have much less pressure for the Youth Theatre programs to perform. Unfortunately, the Guild is no where near the facility it was, back when government supported arts, and businesses endorsed the rest.

Decades of neglect from lack of funding have made large community theatres lose ground and become in danger of folding or turning professional. And that would be a terrible loss for Canton, for theatre, for all of us.

And since I'm still around, the only one really left from those days that still goes anywhere near the Guild, I feel a responsibility and a calling...

Back to my home, my sanctuary, my stage...the place where dreams begin.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mr. Fry's Opus

William G. Fry was my teacher.

Or, as he fondly referred to Kathleen Howland...

My "Guru."

He was just plain Bill to some, Mr. Fry to others, but for most of us who studied under him from the 1970s until last week, he was simply-


We first shared the stage in Gypsy when I was five, which had a "director's nightmare" of a scene full of precocious kids, and their even more so stage moms. The cast was full of inexperienced moms and kids (like us) with only that one scene to occupy our time and energy until curtain call. My mom tells me that she and Fry often shared the honor of watching all of us kids for the majority of the show in the Green Room, a 15 x 20' space, composed of uncomfortable vinyl furniture, several plastic square tables, a large round table, and florescent green shag carpeting. Every night Fry would tell her, "I have 17 nieces and nephews! I don't need to be surrounded by kids at the theatre!"

But it was during that show that he took a shinning to me. Somewhere along the way of that production, I must have demonstrated that, despite my petite size and lack of experience I had an unusually high level of concentration. Really, I was shy in new environments and didn't like to rock the boat. I hadn't even wanted to be in the show and hadn't actually auditioned, but was there every night with the rest of my family. I was finally talked into it by the director, with the help of a costumer who produced a tiny sequined tutu and tiara, taunting me with, "If you are in the show, you get to wear this!"

I also know it certainly wasn't my talent that drew him to me, as all I did in that show was twirl across the stage following my graceful ballet-trained older sister. The audience was quite taken with my "performance" of course, but at best my delivery was "cute." Fry hated cute. He said so relentlessly during rehearsals, if he thought we were going that direction in our performance.

It was definitely the fact that I was the most quiet and focused child in the Green Room.
Or...maybe just a shy extrovert.
Whatever the reason, when Fry directed a reader's theatre production of I Never Saw Another Butterfly later that same season he cast my mom and siblings, but threw in a request for her to "Make sure and bring that littlest one along." Or as she tells it, "He only cast the rest of us so he could have you." I was pretty agreeable back then. I did what a director told me, and didn't veer from their instruction. And at the age of five, that brought me the reputation of being a "natural" who could always hit my mark.

We shared the stage again in the next play I was in- The Miracle Worker. Fry played the part of the Dr, appearing in one short opening scene. I was Sarah, "the littlest child," a student of Annie Sullivan's at Perkins School for the Blind.

I was 8.

I remember a lot about that show. I had some lines. One was, "Don't go Annie, where the sun is fierce," and the way it was grammatically constructed confused me. I remember the director, the same one who handed me a part in Gypsy, not enjoying being around the kids very much, and being sequestered once again to the Green Room. I remember George Mitchell, a wonderful, kind and generous actor, perfectly cast as the kind and generous Mr. Anagnos. I remember George carrying me on stage and staring blankly as I was instructed so I could appear to be blind. The night my mom picked me up after we blocked that scene George complimented me to her, saying how naturally I took to the part.

I also had two of my first crushes in that play. One on a little boy named Anthony who played Percy. The other came from having to audition for the first time, therefore not being asked to be in the show, and being crushed that I didn't get the part of Helen.

I cried so hard after they posted the cast list, that my mom threatened to call the director and tell him to cast "one of the other eighty girls who tried out and would give anything to have your part." She also told me if I didn't stop crying she would never let me audition again.

That was the very last time I ever let my mother see me cry over a part.

And I remember watching Helen and Annie every night without fail, while the other kids were off goofing around. I studied how fabulous they were, how they were so detailed and in character, and tucked it all away for another time and place, until as an adult I would finally realize my dream of playing the title role in the same play.

One thing I barely remember in the show, was the presence of Bill Fry. But I will say, that he must have been paying attention to us kids, and to me in particular. He must have observed all that studying I did. He likely noticed that after our scene ended, I would gather the rest of my scene mates, and find an adult free zone to act out many of Annie and Helen's scenes, so I could apply what I was learning.

Because, though he claimed not to be particularly fond of kids, I have a feeling he was fascinated by our ability to totally emerge ourselves in character, even if nobody was watching.

Just for the fun of it.

I will never know for sure, but something tickled him about us kids. Because later that year he signed on to become the Players Guild's Educational Director. It was one of the Guild's few paid staff positions at that time, and he held the title for over 30 years before retiring to the status of Director Emeritus.

His bark could sting, but he never bit. He rather liked to tease us. My friend Amber and I would give him a ride to Fisher Foods after class sometimes, and go in with him as he picked up his staples for the week. We would follow him around obnoxiously calling him "Dad" attempting to annoy him. His theatre timing would always wait to respond until there was an audience. Therefore, while he was checking out as we laid it on most thick begging for candy or gum, he would turn to the unsuspecting clerk and darkly confide to her, "I told their mother to eat her young!"
He loved us in spite of himself.

He balanced strict theatre discipline with energetic and exciting classes or rehearsals, so you always looked forward to the privilege of working with him. His devotion to the then faltering Junior Theatre program turned it into it's own independently successful company, often helping the Guild hit budget in otherwise slow seasons.

He became my teacher at the age of nine, and directed me that year in what would be our first of over thirty Junior/Youth/Family Theatre collaborations.

I was cast as "The Girl With the Doll," a generically named leading lady and ghostly waif who haunts Scrooge throughout the play for his miserly, and compassionless ways. That part typecast me for the rest of my childhood with Fry, which ironically was something he vigorously attempted to teach us to avoid. Regardless, until I turned 18 the only "sure thing" part I could snag throughout my youth was one who's main function was to appear sickly and dying.

I played Beth in Little Women who dies before the third act, under Fry's direction.


When I say "twice" I don't mean for two performances, or that she died twice before the third act. I mean I played Beth in two separate productions, both directed by Fry. The first was at age 12, and then again at 15. Her character dies before the third act, the one where the three remaining sisters get to wear the cool puffy sleeved dresses and kiss boys-every night. Beth gets to wear a nightgown, and lay around under a blanket looking pale all through act II. On the positive side, in the 12 year old version, I had a fantastic scene stealing death scene with Jo, got to make the audience cry, and then snuggle backstage every night, in my jammies and blanket, and watch everyone else squirm as they had to kiss the boys.

Though by the second time round at 15, I would have really rather been wearing the puffy sleeved dresses and kissing those boys. Oh and speaking of my waify roles, Fry cast me a second time in I Never Saw Another Butterfly when I was ten. And though that time I could have participated in the reading part of readers' theatre, I never had a line in either show.

It was part of Fry's way, to cast me in a lead one show/ a bit part the next, or not at all. And then I was so desperately eager to be involved, I would swallow my sour grapes and work the show. He was constantly telling us that there are no small parts, only small actors, and made it his life's mission to drive that message home. If ever he had favorites, he rarely let it be known, and kept us humble by not always handing us a part that someone else could handle. Many of the most profound lessons, both of craft and character, came not from the teacher, but from not being cast in the part you wanted, thereby having the time to watch and observe other students, work backstage, and totally drink in the art of theatre.

Whether on stage or off, a favorite pastime for most of us was coming up with clever titles/rebuttles for endless array of lectures Fry repeated to us in each class and every production.

Lecture number 14- "BE ON TIME."
-addendum for clarification

And, after rehearsal, number 32- "Ok people! Your mother doesn't work here- POLICE THE AREA"
-addendum 2 for smart assed students (ie Zen and Amber)- "Your Mother MAY work here but your trash is not her job!"

After 17 years of study, a few decent but mainly bit parts, Fry finally rewarded me with the title role in Anne of Green Gables.

And I thought I had arrived. It was official.

I was an actor.

Ironically, the last time I worked with Fry was opposite him in another version of A Christmas Carol. This time he was Scrooge, a part he was born to play, not due to his own nature but rather in his understanding of the dynamics of Character. For years the part had been played by a well known and beloved local actor named Nick Barry, who's comical performance of Scrooge entertained audiences the first 10 or so years the Player's Guild did the production. But in the 11th year, the original director and playwright left, causing Nick to decide that it was time to retire his performance as well.

I loved Nick and his hilarious Scrooge, but always dreamed of seeing Fry play it. I knew from years as his student that he would go in a much deeper direction, giving Scrooge a greater evolution from detestable Humbug to reformed faithful of Christmas and life itself.

When I joined the cast in Fry's second year in the role, I was given a generically named part as "Fred's Wife" (yes it was a trend in my career ;) Everyone in the cast liked to call her "Wilma", after another famous Fred's wife, which I found insulting to the character. I guess when most of a cast has been in the same show for 11 years, they have to find ways to entertain themselves, like the euchre tournaments in the green room, the "find the spam" hidden on stage during performances, etc. I think those are cute and clever, but as usual, I took my part too seriously. I stated to everyone that I had re-named my character Margaret after my Grandmother. The other actors in my scene, two of them Youth Theatre alum themselves, respected my wishes. But no one else in the show did, and continued to tease me as "Wilma" for my two years in the part.

Except my teacher.

Fry told me he always thought that was stupid and called me Margaret with a grin that reflected his satisfaction and hubris at having raised me up so well. And in that grin the pupil felt recognized for her years of careful study.

Still....I treasure the role of "Margaret" for one and one reason only.

She afforded me my only scene, in the 35 years I've known him, on stage with Fry.

It's the last scene in A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge is transformed and begs forgiveness from his nephew's wife. And it included the privilege of laying a single kiss upon his cheek. If memory serves, I believe is the only time in my life I was able to bestow him such an honor.

It's a funny story actually, as one of his most repeated (and valuable) lectures to us as teens involved stage kisses and actor hygiene-

Well, it wasn't that kind of kiss of course, so breath wasn't a concern. But after flying with ghosts in and out of the past, present and future for several hours, while wearing a flannel nightshirt, wool pants, a scarf and hat...let's just say, that having to kiss Scrooge as though I was excited to do so, took considerable concentration. And even the most impressive method acting wouldn't have helped my performance, if I hadn't been so thrilled to be there with him that I didn't mind in the first place.

He felt terrible that there was no time or place to clean off a pristine spot for my lips to land, because he never left the stage the entire last act. So every night as I leaned in to kiss him, he would wink and over emphasize his line, "Forgive me," to which I responded with my line, "Of course," and enthusiastically took my mark, in all it's salty, sweaty, makeup smearing nastiness.

Every night after the show, if he was in his office when I walked past on my way out, he would tell me, "I can't believe you do that every night without demanding a raise!"
"It's called acting," I would tease. Then he would take the opportunity to remind me, in my then prenatal state, that he would like to have a namesake. He even went so far as to offer to cast me in every role I ever wanted, for the rest of my life.

If I even for one minute thought he meant it, Tanner would be a "Billy. "


This morning, my mother reminded me that a few years ago she tried to take a picture of Fry and me together after a performance of A Christmas Carol and her camera froze. Guess that camera never learned how to step up and perform from Bill Fry.

A photo does exist somewhere, though sadly I don't possess a copy.

It was taken several years ago, when I attended a birthday party in his honor, and I gave him a book called~The Great Acting Teachers and Their Methods. Inside I wrote to him that I bought the book trying to learn all the things I might have missed along the way, since he was my only teacher for most of my childhood. Then I started reading, then skimming, then realized I didn't need to finish it. Because I couldn't find anything in it that he hadn't covered in class. The lessons were so subtle at times, that most of the time we just felt like we were playing, rather than working or learning. I never worked with a better teacher or director, a master who could heard a cast of actors from "birth to 100" as he liked to say. I had forgotten my camera that night and asked another woman to take a picture for me on hers. She never remembered to send it to me, and I forgot to ask. We always think there will be another opportunity. But like live theatre, sometimes those moments fly by and are gone forever.

He was pleased with the book and the sentiment though. He rarely betrayed his deepest feelings, but that night I almost saw him cry.

I meant what I wrote too. I never appreciated it at the time, but Fry taught his students every theory and practice, how to improvise and play theatre games, let go of inhibitions and dive deep into character. But perhaps the greatest and most valuable lesson, was his belief that fostering a good cast and crew relationship, was vital to the success of the production.

It wasn't all warm and mushy. There were tough lessons too.

Discipline People!!! Theatre takes DISCIPLINE!

Articulation people! Enunciate! Eeeelooongaaaate those vowels and hittttt those consonanttttts! It doesn't matter how wonderfully you're emoting if the audience doesn't understand you!

I feel personally his main goal was to inspire us to respect the process of performance- from first read through to final dress, from "hairy week" to "giggle rehearsal", from the drudgery of blocking rehearsals to the insecurity of the first night off book. His directorial techniques were so smooth, so well thought out, that we seemed to effortless glide through those 6 weeks every production. And though I have never met an actor who wasn't thrilled to get to opening night and finally hear the laughter, sniffles, or applause, Fry instilled in his students a love of the journey rather than the destination only.

When I have the opportunity to direct students birth to 100 myself one day, I hope his ways will live on through me. And though it saddens me more than I anticipated to know now that he won't get to be there, I will do my best to honor his lessons and delivery style, and teach the practice, the concepts,and the application of all of them.

There was no creed in Fry's theatre- you try it all, take what works and leave the rest.

Fry possessed such depth, such a vast and eclectic array of all things theatre. But perhaps his most profound lesson, came from hearing him repeatedly state over the years that the thing he loved most about theatre was that he never stopped learning more. If he ever did, he'd quit. And though he retired a few years ago, he was still there, and was due to teach a class this week. That's why I have no doubt that the teacher continued to enjoy and learn from

His students.

And them from him. One of the lectures I didn't like in particular, but he seemed hell bent on relating to us, was to major in anything in college but theatre, so we would have something to fall back on. I tried to follow that advice my first time round, but dropped out, because I couldn't find another subject I was so passionate about. When I returned to college after my divorce in 2000, I decided to go against him and get my BA in Theatre Studies. By the time I was finished, I realized that he was right about the degree, especially given all I had already absorbed, and how few new lessons my degree in theatre brought my way, as well as the burn out, loss of drive I experienced studying my passion for a grade. Even so, when I told him I had finished, and was planning on becoming a teacher using his model, he smiled some more hubris my way while complaining,

"You kids never listen! (laughter) There there there!"

Never did there exist a more contented soul. He lived his life on a diet of show tunes and More cigarettes, only leaving the Players Guild to go to dinner with his theatre family, or home to rest. To me he seemed ageless- perpetually fifty years old, though he must have been a mere 4 years older than me now when I first met him, and was in his mid seventies the last time I saw him. It had been so long he didn't recognize me instantly, and once he did, demanded, "Where the hell have you been?!?!? And when you coming back down here? We miss you!"

Where I had been was busy. Now a mother of four myself I can't imagine how my mom did it with and for us.

And regrettably, I didn't get back down there. It was the last time I saw him. We always think we have more time. But theatre people are circus types, and you would think by now I would know better. Few are content to stay put in one arena for long. Though I do still have a few contacts at the Guild, I was never sure if someone would be working there during the day, who knew me way back when.

With one exception.

Up until his last day on earth...
For the last 38 years, anyone and everyone who was ever involved at the Guild, no matter for one season or the last 38, knew there would always be one soul at work, ready to take a break and catch up over coffee or cigarettes, who would tell whoever else had wandered in the door during your absence just exactly who you were, what you did there, how wonderful it was back then...

One who knew me, who cared, who missed, and who will always be...

My Guru.

My mom always liked to say to him, "We raised some good kids together, didn't we Fry?"

And they did. Along with my own mom, Fry, costumer Pat Hemphill and teacher/board member Kathleen Howland raised us up well. They were a sort of surrogate parents for me, who all made sure that even when tragedy struck my family removing my mom from her presence in the theatre, that mine was able to remain.

Fry was the last of my paternal surrogates to leave my life. But his lessons, all their lessons have contributed tremendously to who I am. And though I am so incredibly fortunate to have my own parents still with me...

Today I feel an orphan of sorts. The curtain has fallen, and the stage is bare.

Call the teacher who made you the performer, the coach who made you the player, the instructor who inspired you to take up your career.

And tell them thank you for making you everything you are today.