Blog # 6 A Heartfelt Farewell

I never wanted to be an actor.  Strange as it may sound as a young man I never had that burning desire to declaim publicly or make faces or whatever my completely void-of-theatre being thought acting was.  As a matter of fact I wanted to go to college to be a forest ranger.  Had vagaries been different, I would probably be forest rangering along some wooded ridge looking down at this strange ‘wooden O’ called the Adams Theater, wondering what raucous goings-on are happening there?  I still have some longing to be a ranger, and I really can’t describe what it feels like to look up at the hills and wonder what might have been…and Southern Utah is hill gazing heaven.  Though that arboreal dreaming still resides in me, there has developed and grown a hunger that supersedes love of flora and fauna.  Vicissitudes brought me to acting and instead of beginning with, I have arrived at an all-consuming passion for every aspect of Theatre. And to be here, this season, the last that the magnificent Adams Theater will serve the Utah Shakespeare Festival is an honor, and a thrill and an overwhelming whirl of emotions.  And I’ve only been here one season.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like for those that have been coming for years, or acting for years, or part of the festival stretching way back, even to its beginning. 

Henry IV part two is the perfect show to go out on.  There is a sense in part two of a paradigm shift in the world.  A sadness hangs over the play.  It is a unique Shakespeare play in that he peopled it with an old Henry, an old Falstaff, an old Northumberland, Shallow and Silence.  And, as Shallow muses, mortality hangs heavy.  We are seeing the passing of a grand, glorious Merry Olde epoch, with a new vibrancy, a new king, a new England set to emerge.  One scholar wisely noted that Henry IV part two is not really a sequel to part one, but actually the obverse, or other side of the coin. The triumph of part one breeds the melancholy of part two.  And just as that melancholy in turn births the greatness of Henry V, so, will next year bring new adventures and wonders at the Engelstad Shakespeare Theater rising across the street, at the heart of the new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.  The great whirligig of time assures it.

It is hard, standing on this stage, not to think of all the actors who have come before.  When I arrived here in May I knew only one person in the whole company, and now I have many, many new friends.  I always marvel how we all have countless connections and mutual colleagues in this grand stream of theatre. 

It takes me back to a time, sitting as a very young actor in the first day of rehearsal for a dozens-of-years-ago King Lear.  We were in a circle and the director had us introduce ourselves and say a little something.  When our very renowned King Lear spoke, he mentioned that as a young actor himself he had played the Fool to Orson Welles’ Lear.  As a huge fan of Orson Welles this thrilled me, and as the others introduced themselves my mind was lost in thinking “Wow, I’m working with someone who worked with Orson Welles!”  Then I idly mused; “I wonder how far back I can trace my ‘worked with’ lineage?  I know that Orson Welles worked with John Gielgud and Gielgud must have worked with…someone!”  I was captivated.  What other great actors could I connect myself with?  There must be a word for ‘desperate curiosity’ for that now consumed me and I had to find out, merely for intellectual gratification.  The first chance I had I raced to a library to start looking into this.  And in that pre-internet time finding information was mostly leg work, going to libraries and looking up anything that may give me a clue. 

I started with our King Lear. Just to be exact I wanted to corroborate every connection, but after months of intermittent searching I could find no connection between him and Orson Welles.  I chalked it up to lack of proper records, knowing that Orson Welles, Orson Welles-like, kept coming back to Lear again and again, and I couldn’t imagine this actor would make up being Welles’ Fool.  Unable to verify even my very first connection I gave up, retiring my fervid curiosity.   Well, some years later, sitting yet again at the first day of a Shakespeare rehearsal, this time for the Scottish Play, on Broadway, we were going around introducing ourselves, and I remembered that our director, Terry Hands, the brilliant, very affable former head of the Royal Shakespeare Company had directed a Much Ado and Cyrano that I saw, starring an amazing Derek Jacobi. Well, Godzilla-like, my insatiable curiosity reawakened, and zealously I descended on the Performing Arts library at Lincoln Center to see who worked with Derek Jacobi.  It turns out he was Cassius to Laurence Olivier’s Othello…wow!  I don’t know if this was now a hobby, an obsession or a total waste of time, but something propelled me to spend hours and hours, which turned into years and years, because, pre WWW days I had to pore through old cast lists, theatrical compendiums and countless biographies in actual, hard-bound, card-catalogued books.  While performing at regional theaters I libraried it in Louisville, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Chicago, San Diego, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Azusa, Anaheim and Cucamonga!  Each connection came slowly but I traced myself to Edith Evans and Ellen Terry and Sarah Siddons and Edmund Kean, and my ‘worked with’ trail led to the great David Garrick!  Then I wondered “…Could I get all the way back to the Sweet Swan of Avon himself?”  It was a challenge because the theaters were shuttered shortly after Shakespeare’s death (Oliver Cromwell was no theatre fan) and didn’t open again until the Restoration.   Then, after years of researching, with the help of William Davenant, who spanned the gap, I could finally say confidently, I have worked with someone who worked with someone who worked with someone who…worked with someone who worked with William Shakespeare!  I have shook the hand that through 16 degrees of separation shook the hand that penned Falstaff.  So when I reach up and touch a piece of the Adams, as my pre-entrance superstition, I feel a small part of a giant whole.  I think of all the actors who have played here…and played anywhere.  We are all in this together

As I pack to leave beautiful Utah, I’m struck that I’m not packing any tools.  An actor has tools, but they are all within. An actor’s tool box is himself.  And they are pretty vintage tools at that; old-fashioned things like:  Comportment, Honesty, Hard Work, Collaboration, Individuality, Imagination, Tenacity, Creativity, Courage, Devotion, Curiosity, Respect, Grace, and Gratitude.  Gratitude is the tool of the moment.  It is with the deepest gratitude I thank everyone who has ever come to Utah Shakes, audiences, the staff, volunteers, crew, patrons,  management...those that dream and do, making The Utah Shakespeare Festival, with its amazing audiences, one of the best places I have ever worked.  And especially to my fellow actors; I thank you for sharing and joy and being a part of this grand, grand thing.  I will never forget this summer and this place.

And finally, farewell Falstaff…you have been a good friend, and it has been glorious playing you.  I hope to play you again but if I don’t, I trust you will still be challenging actors and tickling audiences for…well, forever.  You can walk along any wooded ridge above virtually any town or city, look down and pick out the theater.  Even the ruins of past civilizations usually have a theater.  Theatre isn’t going anywhere…and though the Utah Shakespeare Festival is moving across the street, it is in great hands and will continue to grow and wow and be a vital part of what we humans all share…life.