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Friday, July 26, 2013

Kindness Trumps Talent

            Years ago, I directed a musical for the Rochester Association of Performing Artists (a.k.a. RAPA), and spent weeks auditioning many actors, singers and dancers of all ages.

            A diverse amount of extremely talented performers gave it their all during the auditions, but of course I could only narrow it down to a chosen few who would win the various lead and supporting roles.

            But it soon became clear who would round out the cast.

            I was impressed with the excessive talent of some, but more impressed with the extreme kindness of others. Some of those with the most talent, unfortunately, did not have the best personalities - nor the kindest of demeanors. And some of those with less talent - and in some cases, no talent at all, appeared to be less egotistical and potentially the easiest with whom to work.

            So, I was faced with a dilemma:

1.      Hire the most talented who were also the most egotistical and difficult personalities?


2.      Cast the least talented who were the gentlest of souls?

            Ultimately, it ended up being a good mix. I cast those who were talented AND kind, and I also cast some who were not talented, but yet kind. Either way, I did not cast any of egotistical and somewhat mean-spirited - but extremely talented performers. They would have to at some point try again later for another production of mine, or somewhere else in town.

            Years after that, when I started teaching acting at Rochester, New York's Historic German House, I came across a similar experience. There were many fine actors who enrolled for my classes, and in doing so, they had to audition. I was a tough teacher, and expected a great deal from each of them. However, many who attended those classes went on to great things, in and out of the entertainment field.

            In any case, there was this one particular student who stood out - but not for the reasons that one might expect.

            He was an awkward sort.  He was very tall and very thin, and not very coordinated or particularly talented. But this actor had heart - and passion - and determination. And he was one of the kindest souls I had ever met. I knew that when he auditioned for my class, and I experienced that throughout the entire semester.

            And once the course began, and each time he stepped in front of the class to work on a scene, either by himself or with another student, his talent did not shine, but his kind heart and determination to do his best lit up the room. What's more, I was so proud of my other students whenever he did one of his scenes.

            Not one of them snickered or laughed at his performance. They supported him 100% - which not only was one of the rules in my class, but it was something that each of them CHOSE to do on their own.

            I could never bring myself to tell this particular student that he might not have "what it takes" to make a success of acting, because acting was just too important to him. He loved it so much. He loved to perform. "I don't want to do anything else," he would tell me again and again.

            So I kept him in my class - not because I wanted his money - but because I enjoyed his good heart. He was an inspiration to my students - and he was an inspiration to me.  And I never charged him a dime. His passion and determination for acting - and his kind heart and gentle spirit - trumped his lack of theatrical talent.

            And he taught me more about life - than I could have ever taught him about acting.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Zack Carpenter: A Loving "A+" Life!

I didn’t know my young cousin Zack Carpenter all that well.  I met him only a few times.  But I remember him, because he’s memorable.  And while his presence is ingrained in my psyche, a friend just reminded me that the name "Zachary," means "God has remembered."

So, it all fits. 

Zack was a quiet type; always smiling.  He never had a cross-word to say about anyone.  He never bullied anyone.  He was someone with a purpose greater than the average individual, because he wasn’t an average individual.  He didn’t have time to fret about the small stuff or the little things that so many of us worry about.  He didn’t have time to trifle in the pettiness of name-calling, or the judgment in any way of his fellow human beings.  He was too “good” for those things; his was a higher calling; his was a different path…a path that would lead to enlightenment and productivity – for so many.  In all, he struck me as the kind of human being that let people be and became a part of their lives if only to contribute to their lives; the kind of human being…who was a kind human being.
When I heard that he was tragically killed I immediately thought of his Mom, his brother Billy, his Uncle Jim, and so many others in our family who knew and loved him so very much.

Mary, of course, is devastated at the loss of her son, as is his father William.  This isn’t how it’s supposed to be; your children aren’t supposed to leave this world before you.  And Jim, who shared a special bond with Zack, is equally heartbroken over losing his nephew.  When I spoke with Robin, Mary’s sister-in-law, she said, “We lost our Zack.”

He was “our Zack,” indeed, even to those who did not know him well or at all. 

People like Zack touch countless lives, sometimes, without even knowing it.  But Zach knew it.  As I look back now, I can tell.  When someone has that kind of angelic face, and is that quiet, not boastful, and not littered with overt pride, you know they’re doing God’s work.  They don’t have time to talk about how the world needs to change; they’re too busy changing it.
They say the good die young.  Well, that’s clearly been confirmed by Zack’s early exit.  He was only 30-years-old.  Some of us live way past that; long, empty lives without affecting others in positive ways; by never attaining even the C+ grade in worthy existence.  But those like Zack start living their A+ lives from the second they’re born.

That said, the amount of Love that Zack leaves behind - and there’s a ton of it (as further evidenced by the Sports Illustrated article below) - is made up of the graceful pieces of his heart that he placed in everyone who was blessed by his presence. 

Assuredly, this is the additional confirmation that he now lives forever – in Heaven – with all of the other angels.