So, um, I TOTALLY MISSED that the Insecure Writer’s Support Group was pushed back a week due to the holiday. My bad.
My oopsie does give me a chance, however, to write I post I’ve been dreading. I experienced–and am still feeling a bit–something of a breakdown last week. Most of you have read my mentions of a certain threatre director I studied under as a theatre geek, and how her teachings have helped made me the writer I am today. I may have learned craft from mom and lots of reading and practice, but my unique voice and approach to production management and criticism was formed and developed by her. My passion for theatre certainly came from her, as did my determination to be fearless. “Gotta love it!” came from her, as did “If you’re not loving it, you’re doing it wrong!”
I talk about her a lot. Almost every Friday night, in fact, when the Tech Monkey I get together to play video games and watch movies, to the point I’m sure he’s tired of hearing the same stories over and over. But that didn’t stop him from collecting a bunch of my favorite live performances on DVD as gifts for One Epic Christmas.
If this is beginning to sound like a eulogy, that’s because it kind of is. Last Friday, wanting to share this wonderful, extraoridnary woman with my husband, and further impress him with her credits (Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, Grease–yes, THAT Grease–, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s original NY and LA casts, to name a few), I went looking for her. It also occurred to me that it would be great to touch base with her on Facebook or somewhere, to let her know how I was getting on.
Instead I found an obituary, and her memorial foundation Theatre UnVeiled. Her name was Denise Jacobs, and she was one of the first and few mentors I ever had. I’ve held her lessons close to my heart for twenty years now, still bark her Denise-isms at innocent bystanders, still remind myself how to be fearless when needed. When I decided to make writing more than a hobby, her signature line “Don’t think about–just do it!!” is what sat my butt in that chair to figure out not just the story I wanted to tell, but the craft behind it and the business to come.
When I studied with her I went to a public California high school where sports were infinitely more important than the arts. My mom didn’t drive, my stepdad worked a lot and weird hours because he was a field tech for medical equipment. We didn’t have a lot of money, certainly not enough to invest in expensive equipment like dance shoes. She gave me and several other kids rides, or got the older kids to carpool with us–really instilling a sense of community among us. She’d get her theatre colleagues to donate services, equipment, anything. Hers were the first pair of professional dance shoes I ever donned. She taught me how to Time Warp.
She could be difficult–lord knows, YES. But I knew it came from tough love, from a need to see us reach our full potential. It was her realistic advice to skip college that kept me out of debt with useless degree–because I didn’t start young with traditional training, I was better off jumping into practical, on-the-spot training, and she would see the first doors were opened. I In the mid-’90s when everyone MUST go to college or you’ll die homeless and starving within five years of graduation–and California schools totally bought into the propoganda–this was highly unusual, and practically the highest form of Nazi, Communist evil. It’s no wonder she taught high school for only a few years before moving on to college. She helped me through my first breakup in the middle of rehearsals for the spring musical my senior year.
She would invite her theatre colleagues and college contacts to our performances and competitions–making sure were scouted the way athletes were. And not just the popular or lead kids–all of us determined to make a go of theatre beyond graduation.
She passed away in 2011–so short a time ago. She was only 62, and I still don’t know what happened. I wish I’d looked for her sooner, although she probably wouldn’t have known what to do with social media if she couldn’t have put a costume and shoes on it and slathered it in makeup and iambic pentameter. She had no patience for such nonsense–if you couldn’t put it onstage, or couldn’t adopt it, she didn’t want to know about it. But I might have tracked her down through the college or my old stage buddies, been able to send her an email letting her know how much she meant to me. How much she still means to me. I didn’t have a lot of stability or confidence back then, but I did have a lot of anger. She pulled me from what could have been a debilitating vortex, and instead helped me become someone so much better.
I guess the moral of the story is, life is short y’all–so whatever you want to do with yours, don’t wait around waiting for something to happen. Don’t put it off until it’s too late. In other words: Don’t think about it–just do it!!