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.

1 comment:

Design Goddess said...

Again, great words from you for your great friend, teacher, and I'll day hero in some way. I don't even recall if I ever met the man on any of the times we went to the Guild or any other "theatre-y" places we'd go on occasion. And it seems, it is my loss.

My sympathies for you, my friend, on your loss!