finding a more authentic, playful life --- finding your story

Thursday, April 23, 2015

inspiring teachers

So I had a teacher back in college, a theatre teacher who rather changed my life. Vivian Fusillo is her name. Amazing woman, like none other. She cast me in the first show of my freshman year --- A three-hander even! We immediately bonded.

Bright red hair with a personality to match, small-town Kansas native,  former model, Vivian was unique, to say the least. She was also often tricky to pin down for an answer, suffered from huge and  unwarranted insecurities and constantly told amazingly true stories about all the A-list English actors she worked with in the past (Think Gielgud, Olivier and Burton).

That was Vivian; Brilliant, sometimes frustrating, always inspiring Viv.

She encouraged me through casting me early. But it wasn't just that. If she hadn't believed in me, I'm not sure I would have. How great is that? And how grateful are we for great teachers --- teachers who see and believe and encourage. Teachers who see us before we do.

Vivian is a recent recipient of THE KENNEDY CENTER/STEPHEN SONDHEIM INSPIRATIONAL TEACHER AWARD. Wooh. She has received many awards over the years for her work at Winona State University, but this is a big one.

In order to receive that award, they asked the nominator for a specific story to be told about the teacher that inspired you, not multiple instances, but one. How fascinating. What's the inspirational story you would tell of your hero/mentor? Well, it got me thinking...

For me, for Vivian it was this: Her love of the pause. Yes, the pause. If there was one thing she taught me in that first time on the Winona State stage, it was to stop talking and pause. Just be quiet. Stop. So I did. Or I thought I did. Dozens of rehearsal hours that first fall together at WSU were filled with her randomly yelling from the house, "Pause!" and me responding, "I am!" and her shouting, "No, you're not!" I didn't get it. I thought I was pausing. She drove me crazy. "Just let me act, lady!"

But eventually I got it. Eventually I was able to just be quiet on stage and listen, to let something happen in the nothing. Eventually I understood how valuable it was to stop and let it all sit, to simply rest and let us all digest for a moment. Eventually I saw what she did.

This is true in life, as well as onstage. How often do you stop, pause, sit for a minute and let it all soak in? Breathe. Maybe not enough in our busy world.

Vivian taught me this skill as an actor: the power of doing nothing, really; the power of just breathing. I learned it through Vivian and still to this day, almost every time I pause heartily onstage, I think of her.

That's my story of my hero. Thank you Viv.

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