Twenty-two years ago I wrote a college recommendation for an outstanding theater student of mine, Mark Shanahan. I began by writing about his significant talent. I continued by saying…”even though I begin by writing about talent, it is probably the thing I value least in working with young actors. Talent can spoil and go to people’s heads. It hasn’t with Mark. I prefer workers. Mark is a worker.” Nothing changed over time. He continued to work hard at his craft. He’s appeared on Broadway. He’s acted and directed at important regional theaters. He continues to look for ways to grow and to practice his craft.
There was more to what I wrote. Mark had an ability to get others enthusiastic about theater. He supported and encouraged others, even those who didn’t think they could act at all. “Mark’s work ethic has rubbed off on other kids. He has been a leader by example. There are younger actors now (one sophomore especially comes to mind) who openly admire his skill and want to emulate him. Part of this emulation is because they find Mark open, approachable and easy to work with. He is open and giving onstage and off. Another part of their emulation is due to the sensitive, intelligent, and probing questions they hear Mark ask as he approaches a role. His enthusiasm has attracted several of his senior friends to try theater for the first time. One boy, who has suddenly found himself this year, began as a stage manager last year after Mark dragged him in to help paint. The same boy has now acted in two productions. The rise in self esteem and general success this boy has experienced are due in part to Mark’s friendship and encouragement to get involved with theater.”
I’ve had the good fortune to remain friends with Mark. We’ve stayed in touch over time. Being at his Broadway debut was one of several wonderful moments I’ve had in the theater while following his career. The more he’s grown, the more he’s stayed the same: modest, hard working, curious, sensitive, and generous.
I lost my teaching job two years ago. Mark was among the first to reassure me that losing the job did not mean I’d lost my talent. He helped me clarify that I need not let school politics contaminate my sense of what I had to offer. A few weeks ago Mark called and asked if I’d be interested in co-teaching a college acting class with him. I jumped at the opportunity. Last Friday I taught my first college class. It was thrilling to be back in the classroom, working with students who were hungry for what I had to offer.
The chance to play creatively, the challenge to observe carefully in order to offer constructive advice, the collaboration in finding solutions to problems, the reward of seeing students grasp something. And yes, being appreciated for it.
Twenty-two years down the line and Mark is still bringing people into the theater world. He didn’t have to drag me, just offer an opportunity. I’d been an outsider for too long. I’m grateful and fortunate to be his friend. And just like his high school buddy, “…the rise in self esteem and general success (I’ve) experienced this year are due in part to Mark’s friendship and encouragement to get involved with theater.”