Posts Tagged ‘Hero’

Happy Birthday Jim, Forever 47, On What Would Have Been Your 55th Birthday…

Jim in the Adirondacks, 2001

Jim in the Adirondacks, 2001

Those of you who read my blog may remember that I wrote about my brother Jim Sachs, who died in 2002 (see September 9, 2009). Today is his birthday, which in our adult lives we used to share with childlike relish at midnight Eastern / 9pm Pacific time, as my birthday is the day after his.

Our enormous family spent as much time as possible with Jim in the months before he died. We accompanied him on one last trip to the Adirondack mountains, where we had spent every summer of our childhood, and we frolicked together at his home in California. It was an unforgettable time.

One day during that last summer, Jim and I were sitting alone by the pool at his home in Atherton, and I read a limerick I’d written for him:

You darling young brother named Jim,
Came into the world with such vim
And vigor and smarts
In all of your parts
That your four siblings welcomed you in.

You barely were two
When your family knew
That you had your own way of thinking
You’d play in the dirt
Wearing Chris or Pat’s shirt
Making toys and inventions (some stinking!)

And when you were nine
I remember the time
I thought you were rather deluded
You concocted some stuff
An object – enough
To prove to me what you’d concluded.

You explained it to me
With great patience and glee:
The widgets ’n’ stuff (on the side)
Worked together to make it
With no need to fake it
Add – multiply – subtract – and divide!

You went on to say
In the future some day
Smart people would show up to hock it.
Your further conclusion:
(I thought, a delusion)
We would each carry one in our pocket!

At twelve you were solving
The problems revolving
Thru Dartmouth’s math classes each week.
And word got around
That the kid from the town
Was the true and original geek.

Now I was much older
Clearly wiser and bolder
(The Dartmouth men were all mine)
But YOU had the gall
To break down the wall
Into Dartmouth’s mainframe! (So fine.)

Your room in our cellar
You (solo) the dweller
Had carpeted walls plus a lab
To produce your photography
Math and geography
Your Life – As You Saw It – Way Fab!

As we all got older
(Less wiser, less bolder)
You seemed to take off in a spin.
Your toys and inventions
Broke all known conventions:
Apple’s Mouse, Laser Tag, Ted Ruxpin.

And now I see YOU
With your life partner Sue
And Jessica, Betsy and Chris:
You’ve taught us to squeeze
With such joy and such ease
Each minute with its unique bliss.

And so with this ditty
Altho itty-bitty
I’m striving to thank you and say
That you’ll be in my heart
And each memory part
For the rest of my life, every day.

Neither of us could speak for a while. Then Jim, to me, oh-so-quietly: “Vigor and smarts in ALL of my parts?” (Pause) “Like that.”

We sat silently by the pool for a long time.

Sometimes there are no words.

A Leap of Faith: Actor. Warrior. Hero.

Rich Topol: Actor. Warrior. Hero

Rich Topol: Actor. Warrior. Hero

I just completed directing a project in the 29th Annual Octoberfest at the Ensemble Studio Theatre* in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. I am writing this blogpost because an exceptional actor named Richard Topol has inspired me. Rich, as everyone calls him, is a perfect example that actors are as courageous as any warrior. Truly, they are heroes.

Rich probably has no idea how much his work meant to me in the few days we worked together.  I suspect he believes he was just doing what he does as an actor.

The project was David Perry’s Eulogy, a one-person play in which a man comes to an emotional reckoning with his abusive mother as he eulogizes her. The play could be described as the technical equivalent of singing four arias in forty minutes and performing Hamlet’s soliloquies in between. And this with one rehearsal.

I had seen Rich on Broadway in a hilarious and heart wrenching performance in Awake and Sing, but met him for the first time at our one rehearsal prior to the two readings. Within 5 minutes it was clear that he trusts himself to exist fully in the moment; if he gets lost along the way he has the courage to live in the unknown – essentially in free-fall – until he discovers something he can grab on to and move on. This, of course is one of the principles of Theatrical Intelligence: success comes with having the courage to step into the unknown.

Actors must find a comfort level with whatever they’re doing, and a staged reading of a demanding script in front of a savvy audience with virtually no rehearsal can be daunting. Many actors just won’t do it. Understandable. It is rather like being asked to jump off a cliff not knowing if your parachute is going to open. Other actors, and Rich is one, are willing to take that leap of faith, and jump.

In the talkback after the first of the two readings, when asked about his experience during the “performance”, Rich responded  “It was exhausting! Sometimes I didn’t remember what was coming next on the page, and when I got there it wasn’t what I expected. So I thought, OK, I’ll live here for a while and just see what happens.”

86 Plays. 38 Days.

86 Plays. 38 Days

What if we could all live this way every day? “Live here for a while…” not knowing where it might lead. If we can trust that it is OK not to know where we are emotionally or intellectually or spiritually, it leaves open the possibility of discovery. If we are open to discovery, just think what new things we can learn!

Billy Carden, the Artistic Director of EST, says: “…if you believe in discovery, if you want to be entertained by the unexpected, surprised by the spontaneous, if you want to hear a new voice for the first time, or a familiar voice in a new way, if you want to experience the spirit of work in progress: join us.”

Thank you, Rich, for your leap of faith. You are a hero.

*EST was founded in 1972 to nurture individual theatre artists in the development of new American plays, and has produced 6,000+ new works over the decades.  I have been a lucky member of this family of 500 theatre artists since 1977.

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