This week, I was so sad to learn that Eddie Gasper, co-founder of the Red River Dance and Performing Company and director at Trollwood Performing Arts School in the late 1980s and early ’90s, passed away.
Scrolling through Facebook this morning, I was struck by how many close people in my life had a very real connection to the Gaspers–through the dance company or TPAS. Literally hundreds of people talking about what an influence Eddie had been in their lives, and I agreed with every post I read.
If you know me, you have probably heard me say that I am a professional actor because of my time at Trollwood. There are lots of reasons those years were so formative, but one of them was that I was fortunate to work on two productions with Eddie and Kathy: “The Sound of Music” and “The Music Man”. In fact, “The Music Man” was the final show they directed and choreographed for TPAS, and because I played Marian Paroo, it was a magical summer for me.
I was not an obvious choice for the ingenue the summer of “The Music Man”, but for some reason, Kathy and Eddie and the vocal director, Sue Matson, took a risk on me. Being cast in that role was both exhilarating and terrifying, and I waffled back and forth between those two emotions most of the summer.
I remember working on a little scene with my Harold Hill, Bob Richard. It was probably no more than four or five lines, but we were standing on the rough Paroo house porch together with Eddie. I can so clearly see him standing there, calmly guiding me, trying to help me find the real emotion of the moment.
He was so patient.
I was so inept.
But Eddie never made me feel rushed or unimportant. In that moment, those four or five little lines were all that mattered, and he was there, for as long as it took, to help me “get it”.
I do remember “getting it” one time. Just one time. I know now that I got it because I was really listening and responding to Bob’s lines–acting isn’t actually all that much more than that, but try it and tell me it’s not difficult!
Anyway, my response was authentic and came from a place of honesty. Eddie’s eyes lit up. He had been learning on the railing, and he shot up and said, “Yes!” A big smile took over his face, and he grabbed my right hand and kissed it.
That might be as close to the rush of winning a Tony award as I will ever get.
Eddie taught me that hard work is worth working hard. He taught me that good enough isn’t good enough. He taught me to fight and scrap for one more rehearsal, one more chance to try it a different way, one more opportunity to listen and respond.
I don’t suppose that rehearsal lasted more than 30 minutes or so, but in all my years as an actor, working with some truly excellent directors, I have never had a moment quite like that.
There’s no question that the Gaspers were instrumental in the foundation of the metro arts community. They brought a level of expectation and professionalism that had not been seen before, and all of us who live and work in the arts today owe them a debt of gratitude.
But for me, those 30 or so minutes are how I will remember and honor Eddie Gasper.
photo courtesy of Ryan Lance’s Facebook page.