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Friends: I Take You With Me

To All My Friends:

I take you with me.

Though we may not share every moment of our lives,

Though years may pass without our sharing a single day,

I take you with me.

You are with me, and you are loved.

 

IMG_1376Michael and I have already mentioned, probably more than a dozen times, people in our lives, past and present, that we’ve thought of on our trip. You see, friends, you are always in our hearts and minds.

 

People I meet, share time with, develop relationships with– impact me daily.

 

Even thousands of miles from home I can’t help but think of many people along the way.

 

*Walking the streets of Old Town in Stockholm, I immediately thought of Gay and her love of European life and culture. I pictured her here, remembering all the many students she exposed to the world with her many trips to Europe.

*When we visit Danzig, how will I not think of my cousin Ginger, whose character in the musical RAGS escaped from there?

*When we visit the Stutthof Concentration Camp, how will I not have my friend Kathy, close in my thoughts? She and I shared a close bond and understanding of the events of the Holocaust and the importance of telling the stories to future generations.

*How will I not think of Jason after our frequent Patti LuPone conversations, while she performs on our cruise?

Yes, my friends, I have brought you all with me. I carry you with me every day of my life. Your impact and importance in my life goes far beyond the times we might have shared or the experiences we encountered. I think of you often.

Rejoice and celebrate every connection you make. You’ll be surprised how sometimes the most unexpected people influence you the most.

‘GYPSY’ 20 Years Later: Celebrating Strong Women

Twenty years ago, I had the pleasure of directing the Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents musical, GYPSY for Elgin Summer Theatre at Hemmens Auditorium in Elgin, Illinois. It was the combined effort of the City of Elgin, Independent Players and the Elgin Theatre Company (then, Elgin Community Theatre). It was a big, colorful spectacle that I’ll always hold close to my heart as one of my most important professional accomplishments that had a huge lasting impact on my personal life.

Peggy Pipilis as Mama Rose in the 1993 Elgin Summer Theatre production of Gypsy.

Peggy Pipilis as Mama Rose in the 1993 Elgin Summer Theatre production of Gypsy.

For those of you not that familiar with the show– it coined the phrase, “Sing out, Louise” and introduced the legendary “mother of all mothers” — the biggest stage mom of them all, Mama Rose. The character was originated by stage icon, Ethel Merman, in 1959 and later portrayed on film by Rosalind Russell. There have been many famous Mama Roses over the years including Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and most recently: the sensational Patti LuPone.

In the story, single mom Rose foregoes all hopes of a normal life for her two daughters, pushing them in the dying vaudeville circuit, only to have her eldest (her star) leave her. In one last-ditch effort, Rose forces her younger, less talented daughter Louise to become a stripper. That stripper became perhaps the most famous of all time, Gypsy Rose Lee. Rose was blinded by stardom. If not for her, then for her daughters, no matter what the cost.

I’ve had this blog post mulling around in my head for a couple months now. i just wasn’t completely sure how I wanted to approach it… until last night.

Last night, I was reunited with a very good friend I hadn’t seen in almost thirty years. When our friendship began all those years ago– I remember her being a strong, level-headed influence in my life. Of course we reminisced about the old days, last night but more importantly, we started to get caught up on our lives since. Tara is indeed, still the strong, intelligent woman I remembered (and missed) from so many years ago.

I’ve been blessed to know many strong women over the years– which brings me back to our production of Gypsy and start of probably the greatest friendship of my life.

Peggy and I met working on a previous show but didn’t connect on a personal level until production of Gypsy started. She was (and is) my Mama Rose. I was still living in Chicago at the time and Peggy offered to drive me to the train station after rehearsals each night, giving us extra time to talk about her role and quickly establishing a tight bond that went far beyond a typical actress-director relationship. We just clicked.

I can’t even begin to go in to all the adventures we’ve shared over the the years but her family is my extended family. I think I’ve probably shared as many, if not more holidays and special occasions with them than with my own immediate family.

Our friendship and the relationship with her family, to me, is an example of what life is all about.

Gypsy also brought at least four other strong women into my life that have made a lasting impact on me. Two are brilliant single moms that single handedly raised amazing children; one is the most positive cheerleader I’ve ever known; and a wonderful performer, now teacher, that I was fortunate enough to reconnect with recently and is doing incredible work training future young artists. All strong women… all with unique challenges and circumstances… all important role models in my life.

All of us take our connections and circumstances for granted at some point in our lives. We seldom know what relationships or events are going to have the biggest, lasting impact on us at that time. This is why it is so important to cherish the moments, the people and the opportunities while they are happening. I’ve been reminded time and time again over the past few weeks exactly how important those experiences are in making me who I am today.

Don’t Forget Me

I couldn’t feel more humbled or honored than I do right now from all the love and support that has been expressed in the few short hours since my announced departure from Bartlett High School. Reading all the wonderful words of support, the song Don’t Forget Me from the TV series SMASH is stuck in my head… Not because I’m afraid of being forgotten or have a selfish need to feel appreciated but because there is something to learn here.

In our lifetime, we meet so many people. The impact they have on us may be immediate or may take years to realize. We are who we are because of the people and experiences that make up our lives.

I sometimes feel like I have the gift of being able to see into people’s souls. I look in to the eyes of students and I see their potential for greatness. I know some will think I just mean talent but it’s much more than that. There’s nothing more exciting than talking to a student and then thinking, “This is our future. This person could change the world.” That’s what I see. Some may only see a stupid action or a mistake but I see heart, passion and hope. Sometimes I see frustration and the struggle to fit in. No one likes to see that– but then that’s where I have had the chance to try and make a difference. I’ve always thought, maybe by reaching out to them, their whole world will change. In the long run? I have been given back more than I have given, tenfold.

Watching students move on through their high school years and beyond, I sometimes feel like the Bette Midler character in the movie Stella— when she’s standing alone in the rain, watching the daughter she gave up, get married (through the window at Tavern on the Green. ) There’s a moment of sadness but then her face brightens with a brilliant smile knowing she did the right thing.

I have watched so many go on to start amazing lives. I rejoice in their successes and my heart breaks when they feel defeated. In both cases, I am now, the observer and I feel great joy that if even for a brief moment, our paths have crossed.

One of the most amazing experiences in life has been the realization that you can never predict where your source of inspiration or support will come from. I couldn’t have gotten through the past year as easily, had it not been for two high school friends that were there to cheer me on via the magic of Facebook. One, was really more of an acquaintance in school but has turned out to be a wonderful friend today. The other was someone who played a huge part in my discovery of who I was but we lost touch and only recently found each other again. In both cases, I never would have thought (back then) that their real purpose in my life was to be blossom into an amazing support network today. Both are beautiful strong women.

We are trained to be an emotionless society– especially in Education. We are told, Don’t get close to students and You can’t save them all, so don’t get involved. I say this is exactly the time TO get involved. I always felt I was at Bartlett, not so much for my creativity, as my chance to make a difference. I was able to do that. Maybe I didn’t impact the masses but I know I was able to help a few.

What did I do at Bartlett High School? I worked. More importantly, I helped students to not drop out of school by making them feel they belonged. I encouraged them to think outside the box and look outside themselves for answers. I recently had a former student tell me they were suicidal in school and that having a safe place to go and talking to me every day helped them to get through. That is what I did at Bartlett High School.

So when I say, don’t forget me… what I’m really saying is: I won’t forget you. I won’t stop caring and hoping and wishing that you find the perfect place for you to belong. I won’t stop praying for your dreams to come true or your lives to be filled with love and light.

When you land that big job, find love or have your first child… I’ll be there– Perhaps standing on the outside looking in. But I’ll be smiling.

You are loved. We are loved. Remember that. Don’t forget me.