A Community of Friends

This past week was bracketed by two events which, for me, emphasized how lucky I am to live and work in the Washington Metro theatrical community.

The first was on Monday, September 17th, when we gathered at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall to remember the late Gil Mead. If you’re reading this blog and follow the DC theatre scene, you know about Gil; if you don’t, you should follow the link. For years, he and his wife Jaylee have been allies and angels to metro theatres, and I don’t think there’s one of us in the business who hasn’t been touched by them in some way. When Gil passed away in late May after a stroke, it was a hard blow to the heart of our community. Not only did we lose a front-line warrior in the ongoing battle to fund our work, we lost a dear and great friend.

Fortunately, Victor Shargai and Linda Levy Grossman of the Helen Hayes Awards put their heads together and assembled a group of artists to pay tribute to Gil. In song and story, we spent the evening of the 17th remembering Gil. Courtesy of the Kennedy Center’s website, you can watch this wonderful night here.

As we gathered in the wings to prepare for the finale, we actor-types listened to Jaylee talk about Gil’s life and legacy. More than a few of us teared up – Jaylee’s speech was gracious, funny and note-perfect. I was standing near Steve Schmidt, who leaned over to me and said, “Do you realize how lucky we are? What a wonderful, loving community we live in!” Then we went onstage for our farewell to Gil: “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Steve was right, and if I didn’t realize just how right at that moment, I had it illustrated to me once again on Saturday, September 22, when another group of artists gathered in a tiny church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for a celebration of a different type – the wedding of Tom Simpson and Sherri Edelen. We’ve all watched their relationship bud and blossom over the past couple of years, so when they announced months ago that they were tying the knot, there was general rejoicing. Some weeks before the wedding, Sherri contacted a bunch of us musical types and asked if we’d help her with a special surprise for Tom. One of his favorite hymns is “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” and she asked if we would learn the harmonies and sing it after the vows. She forwarded everyone the music and a CD of Chris Youstra playing all the parts, so the first time we actually sang together was during an afternoon rehearsal the day of the wedding. Chris Youstra conducted our a capella rendition; the group includes Stevie Cupo, Chris Flint, Tim Tourbin, Chan and Rob McQuay, April Haar Blandin, Dan Felton, David James, Dan Manning, David Maddox – I’m going to forget someone if I try to name all the names but you’ll see us all rehearsing in this video, with Sherri (a very relaxed bride) looking on.

The evening wedding itself was picture-perfect: candlelight, beautiful music and a heartfelt ceremony. Sherri came down the aisle to “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp, with accordion accompaniment – oh, so sweet and sentimental. The vows were simple and sincere, and when they were finished, all the singers were asked to come forward. There must have been about twenty of us; Tom looked stunned and Sherri was simply beaming. Their pastor told me later that he didn’t think Tom breathed through the entire rendition. It was a splendid finish to a beautiful evening.

I felt privileged to be part of both events: a farewell to one good friend, and a celebration of the union of two more. In our never-ending scramble for shows and salaries, sometimes it’s good to put all that aside and give our time and talent to the people who make the worries of this show-biz life bearable.

Bon voyage, Gil. Un mariage merveilleux, Sherri and Tom.


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