Tonight I received surreal news that a classmate from undergrad, a fellow theatre major at MU, has passed after a rather sudden illness. He has to be 43, maybe 44 years old. Wife. Three daughters with Irish names, little girls whose big grins and fun vacations I'd see from time to time in photos on Facebook. That's where Bob and I reconnected, on Facebook. As he was back in the green room of the theatre, Bob was always up for a quick exchange, the "YES! that's cool" acknowledgement or clever exchange--the authentic connection with all of the cool people that you've known in different stages in life, that, despite its Orwellian underbelly and meme-driven mediocrity and inherent inauthenticity, makes Facebook a positive experience. The funny thing is, I wouldn't feel the hit of this so hard if I'd gotten a call about Bob, or an email, from a mutual friend or fellow classmate. I'd have strained to think of the last time we saw each other, or talked.
So the surreal news comes via an already-surreal, still surreal, when you think about it, resource. Or platform. We read the news; our collective shock and grief was timestamped almost immediately thereafter.
I have an excellent XTC tribute album in Dropbox thanks to Bob. After one of my many postings--and a few trivia-contest style status updates that he posted and I participated in--he chatted me up on Facebook and shared the digital album. "You're an XTC fan? We really should have talked about this at Marquette," he told me. No matter, we could now. We had time, we had Facebook. We had a brief "what you up to now?" exchange as well. Actually, not so brief, but substantial and honest enough for me to get a real sense of his life. Raising two girls, both under the age of 10, I think. Living in New York. Working in publishing.
He was, you know, a guy. A nice guy, with sweet children and a smart woman he married. Someone with a quick wit and great comic timing on stage. I vaguely suspect that his were among the costumes I had to launder for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum when I was wardrobe head for that show. (Did he play Senex, the henpecked-husband stock character who is always duped?) I had to haul everyone's sweaty togas to and fro, and untangle sandal straps and shit like that. Then, the show would close, another would open, and it would be my turn to be on stage and have someone--Bob, or someone--build the sets I stood on and haul my sweaty costumes from the dressing room to laundry.
I bring up this detail because this whole operation, this toiling onstage, hoping you are good, and toiling backstage in the dust and darkness, dealing with people's bodies and personality quirks both, this collision and collusion of disparate personalities and energies and talents and goals that is a theatre production--especially a college theatre production, since one is literally in the building from early morning til late at night--is, actually, a family. See, these little families form, coalesce into a musical that everyone hates doing, or the serious play that is pockmarked with attempts to break each other onstage, or the high-adrenaline comedy that you'll never, ever, forget the lines from. And then, when the show closes, these families dissolve.
In the theatre, if only for a little while, whether the breadth of a show, or the duration of the completion of the requirements for your bachelor's degree, you are family. I'm connected to those people from my four years in college in a way I'm not to anyone else, nor have been since. We share a deeply formative, collective experience. I mean, I still hear my teachers' voices in my head when I am working in a theatre, when I am performing, when I am shopping for props ("NEVER do a show with real food!"), and especially when I was running a theatre company and its space. I'm fairly certain there is a group of 40 to 50 people who circulated in that building on the southeast end of campus during a six- or so year period who hear the same voices.
So losing a family member, even some twenty years after we last pulled staples from the stage and costumes out of the washer and exchanged Simpsons quotes in the green room, or mere months after a genuinely good-willed exchange of "I'm glad your life is good, old friend," it's...surreal.
This song immediately came to mind tonight, thinking about that nice moment of XTC geekery, of reconnection, we shared.
Rest in peace, friend.