Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Family in Mourning
On Sunday night I had a friend in from out of town and we caught a preview at the Rep of "Of Mice and Men." It was grand seeing so many friends up on the stage tearing the hell through one of the undisputed masterworks of American theatre, and it was even more fun catching up with them at drinks afterward at Solo, which has become one of Seattle's Actor Bars. (I hope they know what they're in for!)
My old friend Charles Leggett, who as Lenny had spent the evening politely tugging the entire production away from his fellow actors, had some choice comments on the process of creating his role and I'm looking forward to seeing how audiences respond to the show.
Actors and artists in Seattle are given to the occasional rant about their status in the local theatre ecosystem, and this evening it was the turn of Mr. Basil Harris to take the floor. Basil, who I chiefly know from his days in sketch comedy troupe Bald Face Lie, was fresh from closing his own show "Go Dog, Go!" at the Seattle Children's Theatre, and I suspect a combination of closing night euphoria and whatever he was drinking were what led to his passionate rant about the necessity of local artists to actively pursue their own destinies. He enumerated the well-known reasons for why NOT to be an actor, and then said "really, the only reason to continue doing this is to be part of this community. The only 'career' you end up with in theatre is entirely based on working with your peers and colleagues. It's not about getting larger and larger roles until you're suddenly a star. It doesn't work like that in this town. The pay-off, the success, is the opportunity to do the work, and to do it with people who you respect."
Basil's comments have been going through my head today as I read the many tributes to actor Mark Chamberlin, who died unexpectedly this morning after a bike accident on the weekend. I knew Mark only slightly off the stage but had been watching his performances for years. I always carried a small amount of guilt that the first show I'd seen him in, Hospitality at the old ACT, was frankly atrocious and my review said so. (He played a crack-smoking corrupt Immigration officer. I doubt it was his favorite role either.) Whatever; when we last talked, at the opening night of "The Odyssey" at Taproot, it was again clear that he wasn't carrying any ill-feeling about my unkind words of 15 years ago.
Regardless of how little we actually knew each other, Mark and I were both members of an artistic community that's still small enough to consider itself family--albeit the sort of loud, cantankerous and argumentative extended family that spends as much time feuding as celebrating. I feel honored to have seen so many of his performances over the years. He brought a quality of substance to his work that's rare. The eye was naturally drawn to his slightly craggy good looks, the ear to a voice--what a voice!--that he used like a musician his instrument or a carpenter his toolbox.
Thanks for your work, Mr. Chamberlin. I'm sorry we never had a chance to work together, because you were the sort of artist I aspire to collaborate with. We were distant relations but family nonetheless, and I join the rest of Seattle's artists in mourning your loss.