Category Archives: Arts Education

Billy Densmore, a Reflection, Class of ’89


It’s been a very long time since I’ve written in my blog. I have decided that writing each month with nothing to say wasn’t satisfactory for me. When I did have something to say, it was really a personal reflection that may or may not have anything to do with the entertainment industry.

So, I have taken to write less and less. However, I want to take time to remember an important person that many people in my class at Northside School of the Arts have mentioned lately in the news, for instance, Erika Girardi aka Erika Jayne from the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and RuPaul which are both graduates of Northside High School.

My story comes into view in the summer of 1988 when my parents and I were on vacation in Atlanta. My parents are from Newnan and Franklin, GA and we would come every summer on vacation. This summer, my dad was retiring from the military as Command Sergeant Major (CSM) with the 4×4 field artillery with 27 years of experience, and he was moving back home to Georgia from Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

I loved to audition and was taking voice lessons from Mrs. Doris Lambert from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma and piano from Yuki Walker from my hometown. I had an interest in drama and was in Bye Bye Birdie as Rosie in the 8th grade at Tomlinson Jr. High School. I had brought my 24 Italian Arias with me on vacation.

My dad was on the phone and mentioned to me that I needed to leave now for an audition at Northside School of the Arts.  My dad, CSM (Ret) Artie C. Geter, had talked to his friend, Judge Clarence Thomas, and he said that I should audition for that school.  Dad called the school and they were leaving for Europe that very day and I needed to get there now before they left for Europe to audition since we were leaving back to Oklahoma and wouldn’t get back in time to audition for enrollment.

We left in a hurry and I decided to sing two songs: “Alma del Core” by Antonio Caldara. I don’t remember the other song.  I auditioned before Mr. Densmore and all the kids that were leaving for Europe in the chorus room that day.  I got some hand claps from the kids and left.  Later, I found out that I had gotten into the school.

This was the best thing that my dad had done for me.  Later, I asked him why did he decide to retire before my senior year in high school since I was with my friends from kindergarten to junior year. I wanted my dad to apologize, but he refused. My dad refused to apologize for anything and said that this was the best thing that he could have done for me, and he was right.

I look back at this with acquaintances and friends from this school and hear about the great things we are still doing years later: Travis Payne, choreographer for Michael and Janet Jackson before MJ’s passing; Erika Girardi aka Erika Jayne who at 35 created her alter ego that would contribute to nine #1 hit singles and a stint on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and Elaine Hendrix, actress in television and films including many wonderful professionals across the world.

I heart my friends back in Oklahoma including Will Shields, retired Guard for the Kansas City Chiefs who invited me to his induction into the Football Hall of Fame, and James Trapp (my high school crush) who earned the Super Bowl ring from the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 and won a gold medal in the Olympics in 1993 for the 200 meter dash in 20.60 seconds including many friends from my hometown.

I had the best of both worlds: football players in choir in Oklahoma (Will Shields) and a great pre professional artistic experience at a high achieving performance arts school.

The last time that I saw Mr. Densmore was at my ten year class reunion in 1999 (yes, we partied to the song by Prince, RIP, especially me).

However, Mr. Densmore would say that he was going to die. Mr. Densmore contracted the HIV virus that causes AIDS. The ten year class reunion would be the last time that I would see him.

I did see Erika Girardi in a commercial flight from NYC with her mom and son who was about ten to twelve years old at the time with my parents returning to Georgia in 2005. I had graduated from NYU and we mentioned about life goals then. She was thinking about going back to school or doing something more with her life (of course, it wouldn’t be school but a music career); I would see Travis Payne at the 10 and 20 year class reunion and in the DVD of This Is It tour video before Michael Jackson died, RIP; I saw Elaine Hendrix in a play in 2010 while I was visiting and auditioning in voice overs, going to the VOICE convention in Beverly Hills and auditioning for film auditions at the time.

I now teach as a choral director and music educator at the DeKalb Elementary School of the Arts.  The DeKalb School of the Arts and DESA will merge together as one school, P-12 as a performance magnet school in about five to seven years.

Mr. Billy Densmore, RIP, would be proud of his high achieving students. We remember and pay our tributes to him. I hope that he’s looking at us fondly. Mr. Densmore definitely had an influence on our lives. We contribute much of our training and success as a reflection today because of him.









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Atlanta Opera Presents at WES

Below is a clip that I came across approximately seven (7) years ago at my former school when I facilitated the Atlanta Opera at WES. Enjoy!


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Posted by on October 14, 2017 in Arts Education


ENT Visit

Good morning,

I had an ENT visit yesterday that I can share with you.

The ENT (ears, nose, and throat) is also called an Otorhinolaryngologist.

I wanted to check my vocal folds (term also used is vocal cords) to see if there was anything that I should be concerned about. I had overused my voice on a particular day and since I’m in a choral group, teach choir to young singers, speak as a voice-over talent, act, and sing at times, it was time for a check-up.

The specialist was great. I highly recommend Buckhead ENT in Atlanta, GA.

If you’ve never been to an ENT, I procedure is not painful. However, it is uncomfortable.

Spray goes into your nostril on both sides. A tube with a light at the end is inserted into one nostril down to your vocal folds.

I was asked to hum, sing a high sound, ascend and descend vocally so that full coverage could be viewed.

I had gone to the PCP earlier due to my throat issue and discovered that I had acid reflux. The ENT did see redness due to the acid reflux. However, my vocal folds were fine, yay!

There are many issues that can occur as a vocalist, speaker, and teacher. I encourage people to take care of your voice with simple things.

  1. Drink plenty of water, lukewarm is best. I urge people to drink water when they first wake up in the morning.
  2. Space your speech and rest your voice throughout certain times of the day. Sometimes, it’s best to remain quiet. A person doesn’t have to comment all the time. Silent times should be necessary for teachers, singers, choir directors, voice-over talents, professors (whoever uses their voice consistently for communication).
  3. Get plenty of rest, six to eight hours per day.
  4. Get your exercise.
  5. Eat healthy foods and cook more at home.

These are very simple ideas; however, they work.

For the website of Buckhead ENT; see below:



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Reflections on Bullying Short Film

In the Fall 2013, I directed a student film with middle school students. We finally finished post production of it and I wanted to share it. Since it’s middle school students, the names have been abbreviated. We may send it to student festivals to check out the responses. Thanks for the support for my drama students.

Reflections on Bullying


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Working Three Careers Simultaneously

Howdy! It’s been a minute; I should say.

I wanted to explain myself in some way for my ADHD way of doing business: Choral Music Director, VO Actor, and Theatre Educator.

Well you see…Ummm…It’s like this…Oh cut the crap: I enjoy what I do; I live in a right-to-work state; It just happened (similar to a pregnancy); I’m paying the bills; and I have to count my blessings (or curses when I wake up at 4 a.m.).

Yes, I’m awake a 4 a.m.

No, I don’t have ADHD but I have to use time management. When I’m on vacation, I completely shut down. That’s the truth. When I’m working, I don’t stop working. It’s a tough marathon at times but I find ways to refresh my soul for the long haul.

Watching performances in choral music and rehearsals, plays, films, and listening to VO artists help tremendously. The VO business was my way of performing (from home) so that I could contribute my talents when I taught so much during the week (6 days/week). However, time management aside, it’s tough but I can’t complain. Let me explain:

1. I remember graduating from college with a bachelors and could not find a part-time job, even in a bookstore (remember Oxford books in the ATL?). I was turned down. Nowadays, the economy is tough, so that would seem normal. I had to reconsider things.

2. There are very specialized jobs in the arts. It’s not a job that a person can normally apply without experience. That’s with any job. When I was working as a temporary worker, I remember that I was asked about a music question that an office worker thought that I couldn’t answer. The question was fuzzy but the answer was Dvorak. He couldn’t believe it. I knew then and there that I was not meant to work in an office outside of my field. I just didn’t belong there.

3. I was evolving. I had some tough music and drama teachers in my past but I couldn’t quit. I had to keep doing this work. Finally, I decided to take a plunge and go into business myself. It was the hardest thing to do, including switching music jobs at the same time and teaching a new drama class. I don’t recommend all of this at the same time but that’s what I did (or had to do – when it rains – it pours). I had to have some faith (a mustard seed kind of faith) and jump right into the pool, fully clothed (so to speak) or off a cliff (figuratively). It was refreshing but scary AND tough. As they say, the tough keep going.

4. Lastly, people don’t explain these things but here are thoughts to ponder and chew on: Money management, Time management, Work and Personal management have had a triad of imbalances a few times within my day. At one point, I had scheduled on a Saturday, an Honor Chorus with a ATL 365 showcase and a Drama Class (that I had found a substitute for) all on the same day. I needed a little help from my music educator peers with that one. Another Saturday, I had a commercial shoot with my agent with a Theatre Unified Audition in Atlanta, GA. My agent was able to get me to film first, then I could audition for the Unified Auditions later in the day. Scheduling weekday auditions during the school year is non-existent. I work all film auditions during the summer. VO auditions are after work and weekends if needed.

There you have it. I tend to have a personal life. Believe it or not, I’ve always had one too, although it’s normally with people in my field of work. It’s nice to meet other folks in different fields though. I’m able to attend luncheons with small business owners which is nice during the summers or during breaks.

It’s an interesting and fulfilling life but it’s not for everyone. Yes, I have to take care of myself as well. So, this kind of rapid on-the-go schedule will have to slow down eventually. All good things come to an end. When? I’m unsure but I’m starting to see and whisper the word over the horizon: Retirement.

I’m thankful for safety, health, my loved ones, and work that I enjoy. A passionate person is a person who enjoys their work so much that it doesn’t seem like work at all. They give their money and time freely. Although, I have to be careful with people regarding my time management, I enjoy limited scheduled time helping others as well. I normally refer private consulting jobs or private teaching gigs to my peers. You can’t run after money; there is enough good work in the arts for everyone. Trust me, if not, trust God. There is. God will take care of you.

Protecting my voice is what I care about the most, including my health. So I use a Fender Passport Wireless microphone with a speaker. I’ve had it for years. Recently, the microphone broke so it needs replacing. This microphone has protected my voice. I will ALWAYS HAVE to use a microphone in the public education system. It’s vocal insurance.

So there you have it: a workaholic or maybe a person who enjoys their work. When things start to change and it’s time to let go, it’s time. I have no regrets and I enjoy what I do. Hopefully (and prayerfully), people are pleased with my work. Be well.




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Reflection Day

I’ve said this to a fellow actor: It’s tough to do three performance jobs simultaneously. I’ve asked Jesus for forgiveness in this. The amount of work is extraordinary. However, I’m thankful for these jobs and have to practice daily to stay sharp on the battlefield. I also appreciate knowing that I have limits so that I can have a life. Much love to people who I learn from constantly to help keep my skill sets sharpened. #SAGAFTRA #VO/SINGING COACHES/VO2013ATL #ACDA-NAfME #LittleKidsRock

Thankful that God allows me to do this work and it constantly gives me energy and excites me. Hope others feel the same. The bottom line is that I just had to learn this stuff. Nothing would stop me from learning this information. Really don’t need anymore skill sets except living with a mate. lol Have a blessed day.




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I’ve taught K-12 for 18 years. I’m looking ahead to the future. I’m not sure what the future brings though.

Would I retire from teaching? Yes. It could be at year 20, 25, or by a miracle, 30.

Why do I talk about retirement now? Well…a person realizes that to concentrate on an area, you have to give it your best. It’s total focus. Although, I’m unsure if I’m able to do that in this economy. Flexibility is a huge issue. I’ve never had true flexibility in any job. Maybe, it’s time to review my goals for the present and future. I’m thankful for my past up to the present. I love what I do: teaching chorus and drama to kids. I also love working in entertainment: VOs, music, and film/television.

However, students pay attention to what they see and hear. That means television, films, and radio. If you’re not on their entertainment radar, you’re not important to listen to. This doesn’t mean that every student thinks in this way. However, I get the student’s attention outside of the classroom. That means when I show them my professional credentials, they pay attention. They recognize BET (Black Entertainment Television); radio spots for products that they own in their homes, or professional singers/bands that they listen to and if I know them.

However, I’m thrilled when I see my current and former students do well as singers as soloists and in choral and/or performing magnet programs and actors on film and television. They do get recognized and parents will send me letters or I’ll see their names on Facebook from agents that they booked television shows, and I’m grateful that I was a small part of their success.

Currently, a former music student, Brandon H., works with Usher in the New Look Foundation, and Storm R. is a child actress in recurring roles for BET television.

I’m a strong believer in working in education and the community. I’ve done this for my entire career. However, parents, students, and school systems seem to lack the respect that teachers should receive. I’ve always placed education first and entertainment second. Now, the switch may come sooner than later.

If you’re tired, it’s time to leave. I believe in this, although, I’m careful with this word. I’m not burned out. Just tired of gun violence and gun security; lack of respect in education; lack of respect for teachers; working 7 days / week because education doesn’t pay all the bills, etc.

I love it all: education and entertainment. Change comes at a price. However, change is constant and never ends.

So, I take one moment, day, and year at a time. Everyone’s path is different. As long as people like your work (very important), I hope to continue working for life in education and entertainment OR entertainment and education, but making sure that I enjoy what I’m doing too.

Life is too short.


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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Arts Education, Uncategorized


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A Bad Day vs. A Good Day

Today was a good day!

I’m working with 4 drama students for their performance next week! They are doing extremely well and I’m glad to work with them. The scenes are coming together nicely. They are a mixture of poems and a published scene from a play. This makes my Saturday!

Friday was a different day, a tough day for me. My chorus class has a mixture of students who joined and didn’t join chorus. I have my thoughts on this. However, I believe that they are truthful on this subject.

I’ll mix my lessons for chorus and general music within one class so that everyone can participate. Also, my chorus students who joined from last year will have practices in the mornings on scheduled days for small ensemble work.

Building a choral culture in a school that didn’t have chorus for 7 years was disturbing, stressful, but hopeful. I’m glad to teach chorus to my students and want success for the program, my students, and myself (last). My students come first, so I want them to enjoy the chorus and general music programs.

A bad day and a good day. I learn from both. Experience has certainly helped me in choosing materials and my approaches. That’s a blessing that I can build on.


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Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Arts Education


Education: An Introspection

My singing voice teacher died on July 24, 2012. Her name was Florence Kopleff 1924-2012. Considered by Time magazine once as “the greatest living alto.” Florence was a contralto and proud of it.

Miss Kopleff said, “Music is my religion,” she said with characteristic directness. “I don’t have a family or a business to leave to the world, so my music, which is my life’s work, will be my testament.”

It was. She was one of the best oratorio singers in her time. Miss Kopleff’s work speaks for itself. Below is an excerpt from the Georgia State University School of Music newsletter:

Florence Kopleff, whom Time magazine once called the “greatest living alto,” died July 24, 2012 at Hospice Atlanta. Her voice was one that defined for many music lovers the ideal sound for a contralto: deep and rich in tone, rock-solid in technique and intonation, understated but eloquent in nuance. A splendid presence on the oratorio stage, she was in demand for masterworks from Bach and Handel through Hindemith and Britten, as well as concert performances with the American Opera Society. A mainstay of the Robert Shaw Chorale, she sang on every recording the group made – even, as a tenor, on the male-chorus recordings. In later life she shared her experience and insight with future vocal artists as a professor at Georgia State University’s School of Music.

She forever changed my life.

However, the student-teacher relationship was not a good one. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t her best student. We never had a good student-teacher relationship. Other students may have had similar experiences with her. After graduation, I found another voice studio that I could work in that was less tense and more supportive. It is a wonder that my love for music didn’t crush permanently under her leadership.

As an educator now, I can reflect back as a student on my mistakes as well. I was a young student, undisciplined and naïve. It’s not always the grown-ups fault for a student’s mistakes. However, I reflect on those years to the present: Miss Kopleff’s was an outstanding artist. Her legacy remains intact.


The memories of our work relationship will remain private. I grew under another voice teacher’s studio, and remain thankful that I was able to grow in my vocal music studies. My studies into drama was a result of my positive dramatic experiences discovered in my music college classes. I later went on to NYU in Educational Theatre and studied privately in voice acting. I wisely took my time to learn the craft. I also continue to constantly study and practice in all three artistic areas: music, drama, and voice-overs. It’s important to me that I grow, while I continue to improve the growth of my own students.

As an educator, every student may not be the best one for your studio: whether it’s personality, style, or period stage of growth. If they are the best, they may not be the best for you. Study from the person that you can learn from and review the results of growth from that studio. Educators and students should review constant evaluation of growth. If the benchmarks don’t show improvement, change should occur.

The educational time period of a student remains the most important growth period for that student. I dare say that educators and students MUST take their work very seriously. If you can’t or don’t want to teach: DON’T. If a student doesn’t take their education seriously: REPORT the results and CHANGE direction.

During my field studies in music education, I studied under Miss Elizabeth Sullivan who taught at Terry Mill ES for 30 years which was permanently closed soon afterwards. As a student, Miss Sullivan attended the school herself as a child. Miss Sullivan retired after 32 years of teaching music education. Recommended by another outstanding educator, Dr. Sally Monsour (retired) from GSU, my studies under Miss Sullivan were exemplary. Under her direction, my growth as a music educator was extraordinary and enjoyable. I was thankful to have a master teacher and study under her tutelage.

Reflection with a critical eye throughout the years causes me to analyse my past and present. Other coaches that trained me including Stuart Culpepper, actor and VO actor (retired); Paul Armbruster, VO actor; Deborah Richards, VO coach and demo producer; Sharon Blackwood, classical singer, educator, and actor; and Pat Hurley, actor were excellent choices for me to study and learn from in Atlanta, GA. At the time of this writing, they continue to educate and perform unless otherwise noted. There are several teachers and/or artists that may be right for you. Take your time, do your best work, and choose wisely.

For educators, our job remains to teach. Money and location, although important, doesn’t teach students. We do. Likewise, educational reform should not punish teachers but improve the quality of education with adequate resources. Support (large or small) in every classroom proves more helpful than flippant reform year after year without understanding the local differentiation of our American communities in every county.

BTW, students and parents are individually and collectively responsible for their education as well. If a child doesn’t show respect to authority at home, they will not show respect to authority in the classroom. Likewise, a teacher cannot force a student to learn, the inner desire should be present before entering the door.

Before finding fault in perceived failure, point a finger at yourself first. There lies the answer.

Education deserves the highest respect. Its product continues on affecting future generations.


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Posted by on August 3, 2012 in Arts Education


Eulogy for Dr. Nancy Swortzell

The eulogy was given at her funeral on Thursday, August 4, 2011 and shared with the Educational Theatre alumni. I have very fond memories of Professor Lowell Swortzell who I met in the summer of 2001 on my first trek to NYC alone to visit the NYU Educational Theatre Program for advisement. I last talked with Professor Lowell Swortzell two weeks before he died in the summer of 2004. Professor Nancy Swortzell directed me in a production of the Odyssey at the Provincetown Playhouse at NYU. Literally plucked from class and cast by the Swortzells to help put on a show! Loved them dearly for their expertise, enthusiasm, brilliant creativity and knowledge of craft. A music major in undergrad, I was able to make my way in the theatre world by immersing myself in drama-in-education studies, breathing NYC theatre, London & Ireland studies across the pond, and gaining a better understanding of theatre, music, and my role as an arts educator in both. They will surely be missed. See below.


Eulogy for Dr. Nancy Swortzell sent by Dr. Philip M. Taylor

August 4, 2011

Nancy was an only child.  We were her family.  We were her big, extended family, beyond her Lowell – her soul mate, the one great love of her life.   We became members of her family, each of us, at different times in her life and in ours.  She adopted us and we, in turn, adopted her.

We were the ultimate polyglot family – as adopted families often are.  We were an international family — from China, England, Ireland, the Caribbean, Australia, the U.S., Taiwan, Scotland.   We were her students, her colleagues, her collaborators; playwrights, directors, actors, stage managers, dramaturgs; her caregivers, her friends.   Some of us were – are — many of these all rolled into one.  But mostly we were, in the deepest and fullest sense, her family.

I first met Nancy shortly after I came to Steinhardt in 1989.  In those early years, the Dean asked me to do all sorts of academic work for which I had no experience, but for which I apparently had some kind of aptitude.  I worked with Nancy on curriculum and planning issues until she came to see me, I think, as woefully uneducated in drama.  I admit that I was.  So she began, slowly and persistently, to introduce me to educational theatre.  We connected as level-headed, commonsensical Midwesterners — she was from Cleveland, I from St. Louis.  She invited me to her productions and, over time, I became a fan of her and Lowell and the program they co-founded together in 1966 — the first such program in the country.  We adopted each other, in earnest, after Lowell died in 2004, seven years ago next week.

Nancy and I spent many hours pondering academic conundrums over glasses of wine or cups of tea in her home at 76 Washington Place, and later, after she moved, in her apartment at 24 Fifth Avenue.  Louisa Frame and her family – Husband, Tonia, and Kevin — joined Nancy’s family full time.  So did Spider, the dachshund she came to cherish who reminded her of Lowell for he, too, loved dachshunds.  I brought her flowers every time I visited and eventually took out stock in Anthology Florists on the corner of Fifth and 8th Street.  I told her about novels I liked.  She recommended her favorites to me, and we had book chats that always made us laugh at those silly authors.

Nancy was a brilliant critic of literature and drama.  She was also a talented storyteller with a phenomenal memory for people, places, and events that astounded us all.

Nan Smithner, a professor in our educational theatre program and a former doctoral student, said that listening to Nancy’s stories was like “being in the presence of a master.”

She was indeed a master storyteller, so this morning, I would like to honor her by sharing some personal stories with you about Nancy, some of which others have shared with me.  Stories of creativity and fun, of laughter and warmth and generosity, of fortitude and strength.  This is the Nancy we knew and admired and loved.

I wish I had been around when the Creative Arts Team — one of Nancy’s enduring legacies — took shape in 1974 around her kitchen table at 76 Washington Place.  This was the address of the 4-story townhouse on the far side of Washington Square Park that she and Lowell called home for more than 30 years.  Lynda Zimmerman, who’s in the house today, told me this story.  She was a graduate student then and Lowell was her adviser.  She was interested in arts education for youth and children.  Lowell directed her, of course, to Nancy.  Together Lynda and Nancy and other collaborators sat around that table — where so many ideas were hatched over the years — and devised an arts-education-in-the-classrooms program.  They held auditions in October that year, and the Creative Arts Team was launched in the basement of Weinstein Residence Hall.

The following summer, in 1975, Lynda and her peers went to the new study abroad program in England — the very one that Nancy had launched the summer before and another one of her enduring legacies.  It was there that the students clearly saw the potential for their fledgling Creative Arts Team.  They performed their first show — the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling – in Washington Square Park with costumes and props borrowed from Nancy’s closets.  The day Nancy and Lowell and the students chose for their performance – quite accidentally — was, of all days, National Marijuana Day.  Imagine the atmospheric haze.

The Creative Arts Team moved to CUNY in 2004, but Nancy remained on their advisory council for more than 25 years.  She wanted CAT to survive wherever it went.  She believed it in fully and made it a point to meet many of the students CAT worked with at CUNY.  She was interested in students as individuals and supported and encouraged many of them. In that way, Lynda says, she was a real mensch.

CAT wasn’t, of course, the only idea that was hatched at 76.  Large extended families tend to gather often.  And as the kids grow up (in this case, Nancy and Lowell’s students), the family grows, too.  Edie Demas, a doctoral alumna who now lives and teaches in Los Angeles, told me she was in and out of 76 Washington Place when she was a student. Nancy had a knack for knowing when she needed some extra cash, and there were many legendary gatherings in the Swortzell home that needed Edie’s extra hands.

One was a surprise baby shower for Nan Smithner.  Ah, how I wish I had been there!  Nancy taught Edie to make tiramisu and a gang of students covered 76 with over-the-top baby decorations, following Nancy’s detailed instructions.  It must have been quite a party.  Edie and Nancy had epic shopping trips for parties large and small where Nancy introduced Edie to cheese cake from Vinieros, to Murrays Cheese Shop and the Jefferson Market and an incredible Scandinavian bakery on Avenue A.  And, oh my god, says Edie, the food hall at Marks and Spencer — nobody could work that place like Nancy. Knowing her, Edie says, was an adventure.

By Nancy’s example, Edie learned about running a home that was warm, welcoming and inspirational.  A place that nurtured both relationships and ideas.   She learned how to live a life that celebrated relationships — real, person-to-person relationships.  Facebook, Nancy told her, was a terrible excuse for human contact.

Now, shopping was a much better way to connect!  Just ask Louisa and Leslie White.  QVC Network, internet shopping, Bed, Bath and Beyond – this was shopping therapy, her form of stress relief.  She was dangerous with a credit card, especially around bargains.  Shopping and buying things – mostly for others, rarely for herself.   Tons of kids benefited from her largesse and the extra purchases she would donate.

Cecily O’Neill was one of Nancy’s closest friends and collaborators.  She came to New York City from England more often as Nancy’s health declined.  Even still, Cecily said, Nancy remained a perfectionist, fully engaged with creating good theatre.

Nowhere was this more evident than in her work with New Plays for Young Audiences, another of her enduring legacies now in its fifteenth year.  Cecily was here this summer as dramaturg for the series.  Nancy was particularly concerned about one of the plays in development and she came to the theatre in her wheelchair and oxygen tube nearly every night.  Joe Salvatore and David Montgomery, who’s here today, were there with Cecily on a most memorable Wednesday night.  So was Louisa.  Here’s David’s account of what happened:

“She sat at the back of the Provincetown Playhouse, watching, and not liking what she saw unfolding on stage.  She waited, and watched, and waited some more until she just couldn’t take it anymore. “What are you doing?” she shouted out.  Silence.  Everyone looked toward the back of the theatre.  Nancy began calling out a host of questions for everyone to consider.  She wanted people to stop and critically think about what they were doing.  She wanted the actors, who were playing animals, to act more like real animals. ‘How does a wolf enter?’  ‘How does a wolf eat?’’ ‘How does a wolf growl?’  Nancy began to growl.  She was quite good at it. ‘This is not Disney!’ she reminded everyone, “this is theatre!.” I thought she was going to jump out of her wheelchair.  I heard Cecily excitedly whisper into Nancy’s ear, “You go girl””  No one there that evening will forget the urgency in her questions, or the passion with which she expressed her ideas.  It was electric.”

Joe calls this episode one of his “top ten rehearsal moments of all time.” He was sitting next to Nancy and felt a mix of terror and awe. Terror because the approach was so aggressive and awe as he witnessed the results she achieved.

In typical Nancy fashion, she immediately apologized for interfering.  She could be challenging and uncompromising and impatient at times when it came to theatre.  As Emelie FitzGibbon and others told me, “Where’s the drama, dear?” she would say, waving the cigarette in her hand.

Yet Nancy’s humility, her deep respect for the role of actors and directors and writers in the creative process were what made her so great and so extremely generous.  And even though she and Lowell were like royalty in the drama in education community around the world, she was not interested in being queen herself.  She pushed her students and colleagues so that they could achieve their fullest potential, so that they could realize their own greatness.

Certainly ideas were always important around the kitchen table at 76 – so much so that Phil Taylor told me he actually dedicated his book on applied theatre to that place — but it was always people who were truly important to Nancy.  She always put others first – paying for a student’s books so that he could stay in school, buying a puppy for David Montgomery’s kids at Christmas, cheering on and encouraging the young people around her, as she did Louisa’s daughter, Tonia, and hundreds of students over her lifetime.

Even in the hospital, Chris and Helen told me, she chatted and cheered up her fellow patients.

“Hospitals are sobering places,” they said, “and we had been speaking in hushed tones with one of the doctors. We returned to where Nancy was waiting in the ward to find everyone screaming with laughter – and there she was at the center – witticism after witticism pouring from her lips. She had succeeded in giving the whole place a party atmosphere. People were giggling, begging her to stop while egging her on.  As we left, one of the other patients screamed at us ‘Don’t take her away!’”

We will miss the catchphrases Nancy used, as Chris and Helen reminded me, like: “Bless your heart”; “Thanks, no thanks”; and a personal favorite of theirs, “as she digressed in one of her labyrinthine stories, ‘I seem to have interrupted myself again!’”  I always laughed at that one myself.  And who wouldn’t?  She so enjoyed telling her stories, and I, for one, was a willing audience.

We will miss her laughter and charm, her wit and energy, her perseverance.  Her example of a life well lived, as Edie put it.  Her humanity and wisdom.  Her unwillingness to be defeated, even by cancer.  Her remarkable good cheer.  Her guts, her risk-taking and outspokenness.  Her devotion to young people – through theatre and in her personal life.  Her deep, deep belief in the importance of education and of second chances.  We will miss gathering around her table and making her the center of attention.  We will miss her cooking.

She adopted us, and we her.  We were her family, and she was ours.

So, Nancy, we send you off today with laughter and love, to share this awesome view of the Hudson with your dear Lowell.  You consummated your life. You loved your destiny and lived your life to the fullest.  Thank you for making us your family and for sharing your life with us.


Posted by on August 4, 2011 in Arts Education