The acceptance speech delivered by the legendary (yes, I think we can call him legendary) playwright Doric Wilson, on the occasion of receiving the ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education) Career Achievement in Professional Theatre Award, should be read by everyone.
The full text is on Wilson’s blog, but I’d like to quote a bit of it, as it honors one of his teachers and represents a paean, in a way, to arts education — and the lessons of living.
The speech, in part, says:
In Minnesota in the early years of the last century, a young woman named Loraine Larson, enrolled in a University Law School. The dean of the school informed her that no woman would ever graduate from HIS school with a law degree. Four years later after graduating with top honors, she walked back into the dean’s office, tossed her degree on his desk, and walked out. She never did practice law.
In the 1940s in Eastern Washington Miss Larson was stranded by the Chautauqua unit she was performing with – she specialized in Scandinavian monologues. The town she ended up in was a small wheat town called Kennewick. She got a job in the local high school teaching English and Speech and directing the school plays.
My earliest years were spent about thirty miles away from Kennewick on my grandfather’s ranch in the Columbia River Basin. My first theater ventures took place in the barn on the ranch where I staged my younger cousins in plays based mainly on two books I had read. King Arthur and a book about the Vikings. Lots of sword action. I also costumed the productions. I also made and sold the tickets. A penny each. You could almost say I was born for off-off-Broadway.
At the end of World War II, I moved into Kennewick to live with my mother. My father had died in the war. I really didn’t play with the other neighborhood kids so much as organize them into performances and pageants. One Saturday afternoon when my radio programs were over, I was turning the dial and I stumbled upon this strange, wonderful, extremely dramatic singing. And in that instant I became – to avoid the common more derogatory term – an opera enthusiast of regal personage. I even built a model of the Met stage in our garage. I think I learned dramaturgy from Milton Cross.
By 16 I attached myself to the Richland Players, a local amateur theater. I was busy building sets, making costumes, and acting. I was a bad actor. Tall and not necessarily bad looking, and eager, and orange-red haired, but bad. Although near the end of my acting career I did play Val√®re in Moliere’s Tartuffe opposite the Mariane of Dawn Wells later of “Gilligan’s Island” fame.
I started high school and signed up for the debate team and met Miss Larson. And she did what most of you do, she proceeded to teach me everything I would ever need to know about theater. After High School, she got me into the Drama Department of University of Washington during the last days of Glen Hughes.
I was hardly there a month before there was a bit of a fracas over my one-person demonstration protesting the shootings of gays in a near-by park. (this was 1958) The U was not happy with my political action (the stench of the McCarthy era still lingered) so we agreed I should leave after one semester. It was Miss Larson who convinced my Mom that it would be best for all concerned for me to move to New York City as fast as I could pack.
Had I not been forceably removed from academia, I would not have been in this city the night an actress took me down to a coffee house in the Village to introduce me to Joe Cino…
Seriously, click on the link above and read the rest.
Doric, you are a beacon, a brother, a bastard and a beautiful soul. And I know you’ll appreciate the third appellation just the right way — with love. :-)