"So your acting, was this a dream deferred?"
Stage Makeup Class, College of Marin, taught by Patricia Polen, 2015
Please, don't make Langston Hughes roll over in his grave!!! (Devoting this and next few newsletters to questions asked by audience members in post show talk backs.)
No, for me, acting was not a lifetime dream deferred. I have always loved the theater, and always had a creative side, but my childhood dream was to become a veterinarian. Sadly, the year in college that I worked for a vet, my allergies became so severe that it was clear I needed to make another career choice. With the premed requirements almost done, I chose what I thought was close, with all the same intellectual challenge - if not the furry, non verbal patients - people medicine. And I dearly loved and enjoyed medicine, once I found radiology.
But full disclosure, in high school, I did work after school as a stitcher (learn to sew and you, too, can hem star's gowns), dresser (get high enough in the biz, someone helps you dress!), and costume assistant (someone has to clean, press and hang star's costumes) for Joseph's Papp's Public Theater and Shakespeare in The Park Festival.
One of the highlights of that year was dressing Anita Dangler, a wild, red headed character actress, who later introduced me to James Earl Jones - yes, THE JEJ- when he played Jack Johnson in The Great White Hope on on Broadway! YES!!!
The summer Papp' staged a modern Hamlet in parks around New York City, I went on the road with Ms. Dangler, who played Gertrude. She confessed to me that one of her worst anxieties was that flowers would be delivered to her trailer, then snatched back because they were intended for someone else. Guess I wasn't the only one who knew her fear, because every night, the stage manager approached her trailer empty handed with, "Ms. Dangler, flowers for Ms. Dangler," empty handed, laughed, then gave the "15 minutes", "10 Minutes", "5 Minutes", "Places" call. I didn't like it or him then, but only now do get how exquisitely cruel that was, though she laughed it off each time.
In college at Stanford, I took one introduction to drama class. One day, the profestsor demonstrated the steps of a chorus line routine, then asked us all to do it. He stood beside me as I attempted to duplicate his steps, watching me intently. After several minutes, he stepped back and, in a voice loud enough for the entire class to hear, said,"I though all you people were supposed to have rhythm!" That was my first and last drama class.
Interestingly, after I graduated Yale Med School, and returned to SF for my internship at my first choice match, UCSF, I saw that same instructor sor dishing ice cream at a Baskin Robbins in the city.
"Aren't you Rick Rekow?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"I once took a drama class from you at Stanford."
He looked me over, then said, "Well, I see you didn't make it," and gave me about the smallest scoop of cherry vanilla I'd ever seen. I debated, but decided against saying another word, other than thank you for the ice cream.
That same quarter, I auditioned for one play, Androcles and The Lion. The lead was already cast: Sigourney Weaver (who played female lead in almost every drama department production during my undergrad years). I was an extra, a noblewoman in the coliseum crowd, along with Jane Robicheck Jacobs, another classmate, extra, friend for life! Janie, who went to on Stanford Business School, reminded me about that at a recent visit, because it had long since slipped my memory. I went to Yale Med, Sigourney to Yale Drama and you know the rest.
But I wasn't biten by the bug. The play was fun, drama class less so. I think now that that first instructor and stage manager embodied so much of what happens to a dream not realized, that the world they represented held little attraction for me.
But a more core issue was, of course, the world in which I grew up. One of three daughters of a second generation physician, I was groomed for higher education and personal achievement. Even in New York City, which was tacitly integrated, opportunity was still segregated, by race and sex (want ads in the New York Times were still listed in separate columns for men and women). Clear paths for Negro (as we were then called) female success were limited- social work, teaching, nursing. (Remember, I was born in an era where in many places, the best job a male, African American college grad could get was in the civil service, and for many, that meant the US Postal service, one reason the postal service was so good!). So, for me, a career meant having enough education and skill that I could enter a pathway and suceed on brainpower, without being unduly limited by prejudices and racist assumptions.
Of course, I had also accompanied my father to work many days, seen the esteem with which he was held, played with the anatomic models and flipped through his many books and magazines. One of my tasks as a child was to rip the multipage, colored, drug advertising spreads from the medical magazines like MD Magazine, sent free to all physicians, but sponsored by drug companies. My father felt the ads were potentially corrupting and a conflict of interest, so didn't want to be influenced even subliminally by repeated viewing. So I had to read enough to discern "editorial" like advertisements from editorials, and in the meantime, came to enjoy the images of one medical condition after another, guessing what caused each rash or malformation, learning about diagnosis and cures. And I'm guessing having no brothers gave us more career latitude, made us less likely to respect traditional role stereotypes.
And I loved animals, so why not combine interests? But irony of ironies, a medical condition, allergies, sealed my fate.
It was only after my stroke that medicine lost its appeal. It was multi factorial. Partly, it was so much harder to think and process than it had been. I worked more slowly, more deliberately, terrified that any mistake would be attributed to my brain injury. Others might make mistakes and others did; no one can be perfect. Dr. Frank Zboralski, my first mentor in Radiology at Stanford used to say, "A baseball player batting .450 is a hero, you batting .995 in radiology is still hurting 5 people." For others, a mistake would be simply that, while for me, it would be evidence that I was sufficiently impaired that I should not be working. Partly, it was the overheard comments of my colleagues, who, stressed by their increased work load with "one man down", resented my presence. And partly it was that I had changed, and solving intellectual puzzles all day no longer felt as satisfying, and was much more exhausting.
Once I realized that, I knew it was only a matter of time until I left medicine. For what, I had no idea at all, only that it would be something very different.
And it was pure serendipity, being open to the unfolding, exploring with no plan, no dream, no roadmap, a 7 year meandering that lead me to where I now am. But that's a story for another time.
My Stroke of Luck EXTENDED THROUGH MARCH 29th at The Marsh SF
"Compelling...thoughtful... heart-wrenching" SF Examiner
"Poignant...deeply moving...her stage presence glows with her personal warmth." Huffington Post
"No other show brings us so close to the heart of what matters." Theatrius