What This Blog is About

A long time mentor and friend, Cicely Berry, often says: "all we do comes from our need to survive".

Cis is the Voice Director of The Royal Shakespeare Company. Her profound work and deep appreciation of the human spirit has affected diverse communities all over the world.

Will take you to my current work.

This blog is dedicated to the belief that the overall health of a community or organization is a clear reflection of their ability to communicate.

"Cada cabeza es un mundo" - Cuban proverb

"Every head is a world"

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Loss of a Fine Actor

Last week, I read that Ian Richardson had died.

I first met Ian when I was a young man, working at the Brooklyn Academy of Music or BAM, as it is called. I got the job resulting from a challenge by a teacher, Jane Ward, in a grad course on repertory theater. She was annoyed that I would spend so much time talking about "experimental" theater when she said I had no real knowledge of the "legitimate" theater.

In her frustration, she offered to hire me as her assistant for two weeks at BAM, where she was the Production Stage Manager. An extraordinary woman, Jane has influenced the creation of a number of America's arts institutions. I took the two week job and remained working there for nine years. It was that compelling a workplace.

Like many workplaces, I spent more time there than I did with my own family. It was at BAM, that I would first learn about working across and beyond the traditional boundaries I was conditioned to expect.

Because of this experience, I find many current conversations about "world-wide work teams" to be missing a fundamental understanding of what it means to work together and learn as you go. To build something from nothing and accept that things will change as you build.

When it came to staging a performance at BAM, everything was about collaboration or nothing got done. Leadership often moved to where expertise resided and where it was needed. Not from the hierarchy alone.

New relationships started with an empty stage. Some productions with a year of planning and others with only a week or two.

All the relationships were accelerated with the arrival of actors or dancers, and technicians from all over the world to begin set up. And, this also included local communities who found a home for their original cultures to showcase their traditions. Some of these relationships would last a lifetime.

I will never forget those inevitable Monday mornings, when a visiting company had just moved out on Sunday. The next day, the resulting rows of empty dressing rooms always created a very real feeling of loss that cannot easily be described.

Ian Richardson was one of the Royal Shakespeare Company's lead actors when BAM brought the first full scale RSC productions from the UK to Brooklyn.

This was at a time when the venerable old Brooklyn theater had just survived being demolished and turned into a parking lot.

It was also a time of the strong political dis ease of the Viet Nam war as we were painfully adding new words like AIDS, to our culture.

Many of the performances were important reflections of that time. Theater was providing a significant voice and this profound workplace was a living microcosm of what we were all experiencing.

With visionary leadership, much courage and a shared drive across functions, BAM remains today, one of the world's great performing arts centers.

Skilled stagehands and wardrobe crew worked endlessly as office staff, ushers and artists all understood we were building something together.

Long before phrases like "On Demand" were invented, centuries of stagecraft traditions acknowledged fundamental audience realities. There was no way to avoid the expectations of a waiting audience in a theater rich with the history of fine performers and meaningful performances.

As part of the team to bring the first RSC productions from Stratford-upon -Avon to Brooklyn, I got to meet Ian Richardson and others, who would help shape my work expectations for a very long time.

While millions of audience members will remember Ian from the stage, screen and television as always perfectly voiced, dignified and handsome, I will have the lasting influence of several quite talks with him about work.

I was twenty-one years old when we met and full of arrogance and passion for what I believed, and still believe -- theater has always been a way of society talking to itself about itself.

I had no inhibition to giving my theories to this accomplished actor. A man who could rivet an audience with a selected moment of extended pause as strongly as he could with a beautifully articulated monologue.

We had two conversations that I remember quite clearly. One was about sleep. Another , about working to experiment.

Sleep was difficult for him, he told me. People I am sure, did not easily see in his perfect demeanor and voice, the hours of rehearsal, learning and commitment to his craft that someone working at his level, carries with them everyday. He was afterall, an actor.

During the other conversation, he gave his kind encouragement to a kid who perhaps, talked a bit too much about experimental theater work, as I drove him to a CBS Sunday Morning television interview, on a day when Ian had very little time to himself.

This is how I remember his words. And if I am mis quoting him, I am not sure, that he would mind.

"Keep doing your experimentation, it's too difficult in our world (referring to the arena of a large world renowned theater company) to easily try new things, and it's important to all of us".

It was not until I read the sad news last week, that something made me realize that here was a man whose entire carrier was predicated on collaborating with others. Whose craft was based on making work visible and whose workplace was a stage that extended to others. Yet, he always appeared somewhat singular. Individual.

In Some Way, I have Missed Somethig Fundamental

That Ian, when he was exhausted and talked to me about sleep, was also saying, that we are all part of our workplace, in a way that we should appreciate and care for more deeply than we take time to.

Another Lesson I Keep Missing

We team for strengths and weaknesses and that is appropriate.

Maybe that's why people in organizations have to work so hard to reach collaborative behaviors? Because, it's in the collaboration that we reveal our individuality. And perhaps, our vulnerability. Our humanity.

It is amazing to me when I recall all the effort, collaboration and excitement it took to have that audience in Brooklyn walk into the Opera House and see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform. And, to understand that this was a relevant and meaningful representation of theater in a current world, much the way Shakespeare used history to reflect on what his real world political and societal conditions imposed on his time.

It was powerful to see Ian Richardson on that stage, perfectly positioned in his workplace, in a neighborhood he had never seen before. Playing the role of Richard, a King, at a time when the very neighborhood BAM occupies was and still is, placed in the continuing struggle between the powerful and those in need.

Well, the memories may be mine, but the connections belong to all of us.

I remember, a fine actor who was kind to me.

I trust that I have not used his good name too much for my own purpose and that there will be benefit in posting this story.


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