When I graduated from The College of Santa Fe in 1991, I took two months to backpack through Europe, and then I got to NYC as fast as I could. It was the summer of ’92 and my first theatre job was at the great off Broadway theatre Playwright’s Horizons (www.playwrightshorizons.org) working on Jon Robin Baitz newest play, The End of the Day starring Roger Rees.
I was Roger’s dresser. I was 23 and in NYC to discover and create a life in the theatre. And I struck gold. My job was to launder, iron and mend Roger’s (and the rest of cast’s) clothes. And I did it well. But while I wasn’t doing these Paying My Dues tasks, I sat in the wings, night after night, show after show, for three months, watching Roger work. It was a nightly Master Class in acting. I studied everything he did. I memorized his lines and rhythms and body language. I watched how he collaborated with and invited his fellow actors to be a part of this honest, hilarious, profound world he created on stage. I counted the beats of his flawless comic timing. I listened to the melodic sound of his voice. He was a genius. And so joyful to watch.
Many times, after the shows, the cast and crew would hang out at theatre bars, coming down from the high of the show.One particular night, we all met at cozy little bar with green upholstery booths, fresh flowers on the tables and an open mike. Roger knew I was a singer/actor and encouraged me to get up and sing. “Let’s hear a song, Laurie! Come on!” he invited in his warm Welsh accent. I was intimidated and painfully insecure. “You can do it, Laurie! Let’s hear it….go on!” he continued. I didn’t sing that night. I missed the chance to sing for Roger Rees.
This moment has stuck with me my whole life. 25 years later, I understand that there was nothing at stake that night, just one artist inviting another artist to share her talent. And I wish I had.
I’m singing a song of gratitude today, Roger. From one artist to another, you touched my life and I will forever remember the ways you treated me, not as an inexperienced, scared and uncertain young girl in the big city, but as an emerging artist who had a place on the stage, waiting to be claimed.
Onward to your next great show!