Thursday, May 01, 2014

the persistence of memory. for Jerry Manning.

We were not a Seattle-Rep-going family when I was young; my parents always considered it too conservative for their tastes, which became my tastes. Ours was an ACT-subscriber house, which shaped my teenage years and then the rest of my life so far. Much later I was drawn to the Rep for EQUIVOCATION, a co-production with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and although I haven’t loved everything I’ve seen there (especially the splashier, Big-On-Broadway plays) I have always loved the talent and care that has gone into each work. Ben (Moore, the managing director, who just retired) and Jerry (Manning, the artistic director), Jerry and Ben - they had an extraordinary sense of vision, of identity, an understanding of their audience that was impressive even when I didn’t agree with it. The sudden death of Jerry Manning today is a tremendous, terrible blow.

I often saw Jerry at other theatres around town, but there are two other moments that stand out in my mind, which I will remember for the rest of my life. The first was at a benefit performance Mike Daisey did of his monologue HOW THEATRE FAILED AMERICA, shortly after the closure of Intiman Theatre, now the Cornish Playhouse. I remember that he seemed hesitant about being there that night. I remember that there was a little bit of the sense that it was The People With The Money Making Decisions versus The People Who Are Trying To Make Art. And I remember him saying, “This is Elizabeth Kenny, her one-woman show SICK is really great, and it’s just been extended at the New City Theatre, and you should go see it.” And I went and I saw it, and it changed everything. I push myself harder now, I pay more attention to the people who make theatre in this town, I see as much as I can. That was three years and two hundred and fifty plays ago, and it all started that night from a little comment that Jerry Manning made. I owe so much of how I think about theatre now to him and what he said that night.

Early last year I went to the New Play Festival readings at the Rep, which were all memorable (especially the stunning ALL THE WAY and THE GREAT SOCIETY by Robert Schenkkan), but my favorite moment was watching Jerry work with Justin Huertas on his comic-book musical, LIZARD BOY. It was not something you would expect to see at the Rep, jam-packed with Dick’s jokes and references to Grindr, that gay-hookup app, and the tremendously haunting voice of Kirsten DeLohr Helland. Before the talkback session, Jerry turned to us and said, rather cheekily, “Do y’all know what Grindr is or do I have to explain it to you?” I laughed, but I also saw that he took his mentorship of Justin and his work very, very seriously. Theirs was a meeting of the minds, bonded over a shared love of comic books (who knew?) but more than that an understanding of our human need to tell stories. That reading changed how I look at the Seattle Rep, how capable they can be of pushing themselves and their boundaries.

I never met Jerry Manning, but I was very much influenced by him and his vision and his love for art and more importantly the people who make art. Art matters, but people matter more. What is that line from MRS. DALLOWAY? “What does the brain matter? Compared to the heart.”

No comments: