This last weekend was the reunion of my college theater department. SMU. Dallas, Texas. Reunions are wonderful and dangerous. They are as close as we can come to taking a ride in a time machine. They become epic dramas of survival and apology—fueled by chardonnay.
You may think the lanyard they loop around your neck at the check-in desk is a nametag, but it is a mirror that says in an instant, “You know what I thought I was. This is what I have become.”
This was a reunion of anyone who went to the school…not necessarily from my year. That meant half the people there were youngsters in their 40’s that I never knew. Several had become psycho-therapists.
Some were friends who stayed in the business—like Pat Richardson and David Lancaster—people that I know and have worked with and are still a part of my life. (Pat and I have the rare connection in that I have directed her, acted with her on Broadway where she played my sister, and acted with her on film where she played my wife.)
The subset that sparked my curiosity the most was the prospect of seeing the people that had already become distant memories: people I hadn’t seen in over forty years.
Every memory took on the power of the miraculous. Matt Haley laughing till he cried about having no heat in his apartment. Kathy King, still gorgeous after all these years, telling me about the days right after her graduation and her journey, not to Broadway as we all expected, but to Portland, Oregon.
A reunion honors a mutually agreed to starting line. Emotionally we jump to the place that says: This is when I started. This is when “I” began…for real.
I would argue with the premise. Starting lines vary with the story you are telling. But high school and college reunions are valuable because some version of those eras is still available to our long-term memory.
I have always believed that what you learn is like the shoreline beside an ocean. In time, only the strongest rock remains. That is true with my two great teachers from SMU: Jim Hancock and Jack Clay. They were at the reunion.
Jack is a central figure in my story “Conference Hour” in The Tobolowsky Files and in my book, The Dangerous Animals Club. Jack is now in his 90’s. Full of joy and recollection.
Jim Hancock? I have no idea how old Jim is. He must be in his 80’s but was looking and acting closer to 40. I guess all of that yoga worked.
This is what the time machine taught me at this reunion.
Everything Jim Hancock taught me was what I would define as “outside the box”—improvisation, movement, relaxation, and what he called “feeling the power of your breath.”
On the other hand, Jack Clay was the box. Jack taught the size and shape of the box. Length, width, depth of the box. The history of the box. The beauty of the box. And ultimately, the holiness of the box.
The combination of their lessons had a powerful effect on me. I saw that when life gives you a box, you must embrace it, study it, know its history. See its beauty. Understand that it is holy.
When life takes your box away, it is time to improvise, time to move. Time to relax and time to feel the power of your breath.