Monday, May 14, 2012

Jack Sullivan, 1939-2012

This is a post long in the making, I feel rather ashamed for not posting this sooner.  I'm hoping you'll understand why.

I remember that rehearsal quite vividly, not just for obvious reasons.  The Hot Box Girls were out at a local lingerie shop choosing our 'Take Back Your Mink' costumes and running into scheduled rehearsal time.  We were concerned we were late, but more concerned about the costume at the immediate moment.  I was in a foul mood and tried not to show it; having an arranged time to meet, I had skipped dinner to make sure I was on time, only to have the rest of the girls an hour late.  I tried not to let tension seep out of me, I enjoy spending time with my castmates, especially these girls.  This is my escape from the week, my second family.  Three nights a week for a few hours at a time, you get to know people quite quickly in an atmosphere of trust.

The more time we took, the more anxious I was getting.  I had noticed a couple of the other girls were sitting in a different frequency of tension, so I pushed my own down for the sake of not adding fuel to a fire I didn't build.  I bit my tongue as we headed for rehearsal, looking forward in losing myself in tonight's work.

Which would be futile, to say the least.

We were greeted by our producer in the rehearsal hall's green room to inform us that one of our cast members, Jack Sullivan, had passed away that afternoon, in his sleep, from a heart attack.  Our Arvide Abernathy, our sweet grandfather, the man with the smile for everyone, one of the warmest and most welcoming souls I'd ever had the pleasure to meet, had left us.

It put so much more into perspective.

I wear my heart on my sleeve.  I try not to, but it seeps out of me before I can contain it.  I tend to associate myself with a similar breed, and theatre folk tend to tune into that same frequency at times.  I had only met Jack during Guys & Dolls and had heard nothing but wonderful things about him and his performance ethic, his friendliness, his open sense of trust.  With all the tension pushed down from before, and the sudden impact of mortality, it was just all too much to take.  I had no idea of whatever strain was put upon him, he never seemed to show.  His energy seemed to be boundless, especially for a man in his wiser years.  I understood this to be his third or fourth show in a row; Annie, Ann of Green Gables, Joseph, Wizard of Oz ... it's difficult to pull a man away from doing what he loves, and he certainly seemed to love what he was doing with us.  We loved him.  We adored him, he was the perfect 'grandfather Arvide', and embodied that protective patriarch rather perfectly.  He was that for all of us.  I didn't know how I was going to go through with this.

Our producer had said we would still be going through with rehearsal, and obviously understandable to emotional states, it would be a subdued evening.  The announcement was made to the cast and crew in attendance at the start of rehearsal, so everyone was in a state of grieving in their own way.  Jack would have come tonight for rehearsal, so we would still have one.

I had completely lost my appetite at that point, not rather caring about my own needs but more of the collective comfort.  Although a good cry in the bathroom alone got most of it out, I'm not too sure if I could have held up the rest of the night if it wasn't for a particular cast member who reached his arms out to me as soon as he saw me when I quietly snuck into wardrobe.  I didn't hesitate, I knew I'd be safe there.  He had been a bit of an emotional crutch for me that night; I'm not too sure if he understands how much I appreciated him, how much I still do.  If anything that Jack's sense of precious time taught me, is to let those people know how much they're loved and appreciated.

We all banded together that night, and the energy shifted.  We all felt vulnerable; raw and tender in grief that held its mist over our heads.  We tried not to let it cloud our eyes that night.  We knew going through with rehearsal was the best thing we could do for Jack's legacy.  We knew it was best, most of all, that being together - this family that Jack helped build - was the best thing we could do for each other.

The show has since drawn its final curtain, with our director stepping into Jack's role.  It was the right decision, we agreed in some unspoken way, to keep the role 'in the family'.  Our music director had also said at one point she didn't have it in her heart to teach the song to someone else after Jack.  Jack's wife, Carolyn, and a substantial number of his family were in attendance at our final show.  We had received such overwhelming support from the Sullivan family in regards to this show, we were and continue to be so grateful.  I only wish there was such a way I could personally express the loss I feel in not getting to know Jack better. 

Out of this, I keep precious the things around me.  I take the time to remember the genuine people around me, the new lights in life that keep me warm and safe, to take the time to acknowledge their kindness and let them know how much their loved.  Jack did the same for all of us in his own way.  We, the cast and crew of Guys & Dolls, try to continue that spirit, even after the show has drawn its curtain and the last note is sung.  We remember the precious time we have and to not take it for granted, but to also not waste it and fill it with as much life as possible.

I had the opportunity to design and create the show programme, which included a page dedicated to Jack's memory.  I had included a quote from Alexander Pope's "Essays on Man": "Act well your part; there all the honour lies."  It was something that struck me as reflective of Jack's character, that he put so much dedication to his work, and his legacy will always remain with us his dedication and love for the magic we created on stage and the respect he showed for all those who met him.

I was lucky to have an audio recording of Jack in rehearsal singing "More I Cannot Wish You" from a late January rehearsal.  I've created a tribute video featuring this recording, with the help of Jack's cast mates from previous shows.  Hopefully a fitting tribute to Jack, something we can continue to remember.

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