Last July I received a letter from a woman who had come to see our LRCT performance of Gypsy on June 29th. Her name was Nancy. She wrote of loving the performance and of being "moved to send (me) fan mail". She spoke of living near Boston, vacationing in an old cottage in my Maine town, and how she'd grown up in New York City seeing Broadway shows in the '50s and '60s, including a 1959 Ethel Merman performance of Gypsy. She wrote "As soon as I saw you and heard you start to sing 'Some People', I new that everything was going to be fine! We have a good Rose!" She said she continued to be impressed with my command of the role, "every bit as persuasive as Ethel Merman's", and added that "in fact (she had) preferred the touch of vulnerability and tenderness" that I brought to the role. She called me "sensitive and stylish" in my depiction and said I'd put her in a "good mood for days" after seeing the show.
It was clearly the most magnificent piece of fan mail I'd ever received. Wow.
I needed to write back to her, to tell her how very much her note had meant to me. Little did I know that it would take me nearly a year to respond. Shame on me. But the only way to attempt to make things right, is to apologize now and to make good on what should have been written last year. This letter will be mailed today, to a dear woman I've never met, but whose kind note lifted my spirits when I was missing my truest biggest fans of my lifetime, my Mom and Dad
Please allow me to begin with an apology. I received your lovely note and donation to Lake Region Community Theater last summer. I then misplaced it all. It was tucked into a book I had been reading in July, one I did not open again for several months. Upon finding your letter, I sent the check off to our LRCT President, Janet VerPlank. It had been my intention to write back to you all along, but I failed to do so. I hope this note reaches you soon and that you’ll understand.
I want to tell you what was going on with me and with the production of Gypsy last year. Rehearsals were in full swing and then our Gypsy Rose Lee fell ill. Although she returned to perform in the second weekend of shows, a last minute substitution was made and my daughter’s best friend, Savannah, stepped into the role with just a few days of practice. Savannah was remarkable--she is an intelligent and talented young woman and I am so very proud of her. She gave an incredible performance and it was a pleasure to be her Mama Rose on stage!
However, on the Saturday before opening night, our production was thrown another curveball that not many people in the audience were aware of. My father, an 85 years old, strong, intelligent, and industrious man, had a fatal heart attack. He had been caring for my 85 year old mother who has dementia. I was so very close to them both and I received the news of Dad’s death while at play practice that Saturday morning. My daughter Emma (who played my daughter June in the show) and I were devastated as were my husband and children Sydney and Paul.
I went to my hometown immediately. On Monday night I returned for rehearsal. I then went back to sing at my Dad’s funeral on Thursday. I came to dress rehearsal that evening and the show opened the following night. The following Monday I was on my way to Rhode Island for Emma’s college orientation days. We returned in time to do our second weekend of Gypsy.
My Dad and my Mom had long been my greatest fans. They came to every show of mine from childhood to adulthood. Their confidence and support of my passions always gave me the heart and determination to excel. My Dad had already expressed to me his sadness over not being able to make it to Emma’s high school graduation in early June and I knew it was unlikely he’d be able to attend our show two weeks later. I understood of course. But this was all on my mind. I thought I’d be seeing him in mid July at least. After June 15th, I was swimming in grief.
But when it came time to perform, when I was in the lobby about to enter the auditorium for my first entrance, a little bird appeared in one of the classroom windows out in the hall. It fluttered its wings and I felt an enormous sense of peace wash over me. I was ready. Dad was indeed here to see the show.
This role meant so very much to me and I gave it my all. To receive your beautiful letter out of the blue last July was an amazing gift. Thank you. I had worked hard to bring Rose to life in an authentic way. As a mother (who coincidentally has two performance loving daughters who majored in theater in college) and as a daughter who, unlike Rose, had a father who fully supported my every dream, I was determined to do right by the role.
I now believe that my father’s death gave me the final bit of authenticity that I brought to the role. It may have taken me much too long to respond to your letter, but I think it has taken me this year to truly appreciate the grace God has bestowed on me, not only in the performance weekends of the show, but at all times, in all situations.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I humbly curtsy to your words. In my work as a high school English teacher (I’m finishing my 23rd of teaching this next week), I have asked my students to make time to write notes of kindness and gratitude. We need more of both in this world. I thank you for your kindness and gratitude and I hope my own expression of such to you is not too late.
With Humble Gratitude,