when i wrote yesterday’s post about the upcoming production of my written work at New Route Theatre, i knew that i wasn’t telling the entire story. i felt it would be discourteous to the people whom i was talking about to lump them all into one neat, little package. in addition, the 3 or 4 people who read this post would have been given far too much information all at once. and so, i shall continue on as if you have just turned the page and are beginning the second chapter of an exceedingly short book. directing “And She Said….” is Phil Shaw, and this is how he came into my life roughly 20 years ago.
before i ever had the opportunity to spend any time working with Phil Shaw, i had already seen him act in two productions at Heartland Theatre Company. Jerry Dellinger had become my mentor and the person whose opinion i valued beyond all others. Jerry did work with Heartland and felt it was essential to my initiation into the world of the theater that i see as many plays as i could. i remember being in such “deer in the headlights” awe of the performers at these shows. still fresh from four years of institutional living, i wasn’t the brazen and confident girl that i am now. standing slightly behind Jerry, quiet possibly the shyest person in the room, i was introduced to Phil after one of his mind-boggling performances. he was terribly kind in receiving the verbal barrage of superlatives which fell out of my mouth. i remember that he gave me a patiently kind smile and let me politely off the hook for my sudden rush of exuberance. as i said, i was painfully quiet in the presence of those who intimidated me, but Phil’s acting was so beyond impressive that i presumed there would be hollywood agents standing in the lobby. during the car trip back to Lincoln College with Jerry, he confirmed my opinions of the superb acting which i had just witnessed. he told me his thoughts about people like Phil Shaw and Dr. Jean Scharfenberg*. how being merely a director and set designer would never place him in the same level as these theatrical giants of Central Illinois. the fact that i had just met and would one day be working alongside someone whom my mentor admired strengthened my feelings of wonder at the man whom i had just met.
when i finally did have the chance to work with Phil Shaw on a production for Heartland Theatre, i was far more confident in myself and my newly acquired knowledge of how a play was created. my self-assured status was bolstered by Jerry’s insistence that he had prepared me for this. my title was stage manager and i was instructed to handle everything that occurred in the theater. i helped build the sets, ran the lights and assisted the direct, costume manager and house manager. oh yes, i was important. important, yet still trying to find my voice and place amongst these people who had worked on countless shows together and really didn’t need me adding ideas to their already well-honed conversation. still, i was there and ready to do my job. Phil’s job, as it seems in retrospect, was to help me find me find my voice. he dismissed most of the things which i said and kept me on the outside of all decisions. until one nite, when instead of retreating quietly to the lighting board and trying to blend in with the extra costumes, i stood up for myself. i was steady, i was clear, i was absolutely confident about my reasoning and this was what Phil had been waiting for. his response was something to the effect of “bravo. now i will listen to you.” i had earned his respect. he told me later that this was his intention. he saw a glimmer of the person i could be and wanted to help me find her on my own. i guess he was directing me the way he would an actor in one of his productions….and i was proud of myself for having found the more self-assured girl who had been lurking inside of me.
prior to my move to asheville, north carolina in 1999, i worked with Phil a little more and saw many shows in which he either was acting in or directing. i think that i probably introduced myself to him on every occasion for several years. my assumption was always that he was a man whom so many people flocked to that i would have been pushed from his brain to make room for new admirers. this never seemed to be the situation however. Phil always knew who i was and i was always pleasantly surprised and honored. when Jerry passed away in august of 2010, a mutual friend told me that Phil would be attending the memorial service. in preparation for my trip i packed copies of my work to give to him and a few other friends whom i knew would be attending. whenever i give someone a copy of my work, it is without any ulterior motive. i have passed books along because i thought someone might need a laugh or because they did something which i appreciated. in fact, the last book i gave out was to the band Steep Canyon Rangers because i had enjoyed their concert so very much. just something to give back with no subversive intention. for Phil and the others at Jerry’s service, i thought my book might sit for quite some time and quite possibly never be opened. not that these are unappreciative people, but as actors and directors these are people who essentially read for a living. scripts, novels and other works which could be adapted for the stage. i was considerably shocked and supremely honored when Phil contacted me a few months later to ask if he could do a production of the poems i had given to him.
to end this story, i would like to publicly thank Phil Shaw for seeing something more in my poetry and so generously taking it to the next level. thank you to Irene Taylor, Jennifer Rusk and Bridgette Richard, who are essentially playing “me” in this production, i’m certain they will bring an element to my work that i have yet to discover. New Route Theatre is, of course, owed all of my gratitude. Phil, Don Shandrow & the other members of this amazing non-profit theatre company, are incredibly wonderful to bring such fresh and interesting productions to light for the audiences of central illinois. i am fortunate to now be added to that list.
lastly, my thank you to Jerry, who introduced me not only to the world of theater, but to the people who make it the inspiring place that it is.
*”Jean Scharfenberg may be to Chicago what Lee Strasberg was to Hollywood: as a theater professor at Illinois State University since 1966, Scharfenberg has taught such area actors as John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, Terry Kinney, Gary Cole, and John LeMay.” – Excerpt from Chicago Reader, May 31st, 1990.
What a wonderful person Jerry was, and Phil is. They both saw your creative spark and extended themselves to nurture it. Jerry also seems to have recognized the fragility that lingered in you after your childhood, and he treated you with the respect, compassion, and high hopes that you deserved. How wonderful that you met him, and, though him, Phil and so many others.
thank you Rachel, yes Jerry was an incredible influence on my life and i’m fortunate that he was brilliant at directing me both on stage and off. Phil has offered me a new direction to go with his genius at seeing what others may miss. i am grateful for all of life’s twists and turns. they have not only taken me on a terribly interesting journey but also turned people who may have been extras in my story into a wondrous supporting cast. i assure you that if Jerry had known you, he would have made certain that we were introduced. : )
I would have liked to meet him one day