Nan had a huge brassy laugh you could hear from the back of a packed auditorium. She took no shit but had the sensitivity and insight to make flailing teens feel understood and valued.
We did some standard stuff (Jesus Christ Superstar, with a boy kissing a boy! gasp!) and also The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, which she adapted from the picture book into a manic, wonderful one act play that won us the Massachusetts State Drama Festival and ensemble acting awards, the experience of which was the highlight of my entire high school career, thankyouverymuch. We did a really dark post-apocalyptic little number called Rabbit the year before. Also Working, the musical based on the book by Studs Terkel, which I read in its entirety to prepare for auditions and it was amazing. I was Rose Hoffman, a teacher, and she drove me to an elementary school to take pictures of me with greyed-out hair in an classroom to get photos for a cool projection effect she wanted to do with each character. There was a cast of 40+ so you do the math on how much of her own time went into that. I still have a picture from that shoot. She had the vocalists over at her house to practice songs on the weekends. She coached students to try out for acting scholarships and drove us there. She designed sets and costumes and got the tech kids building them. She had a glorious, belt-y alto and oh yeah, she taught Chorus, too. A little crowd of us around her at the piano, alternating Rent medleys and traditional songs like Shendoah, pulling lovely harmonies from our unconfident voices. I remember talking with her about body language and status and the coolness of Julie Taymor's puppetry. I remember notes she gave to 16 year old me, 16 years ago.
Soon after I got into Brandeis, the Theater Company of Saugus had a play competing at EMACT, which was held at Spingold theater that year. Nan asked me if I'd like to come, so we pretended I was part of the crew and I tagged along. That's how I got my first look at the main stage of the college where I would study theater for the next four years. It was from a book of plays she lent me in which I found the monologue I used for my first audition. (Nina Shengold, Lives of the Great Waitresses.)
And all that creativity and effort and on-her-own-time and attention and let's not forget money, Saugus has never been swimming in budget - that was just how much I can remember from my time in high school, 15 years ago. I was just one kid. I don't even think of myself as one of the most mentored, which in retrospect is kind of boggling. Think about the aggregate of all that creative energy and dedication. How many students have memories like mine? In 25 years of teaching?
I'd been meaning to write her a card for the past couple of months.
Recap for the past 4 days: dad in and out of the hospital, ok now, thank goodness. Marathon. Texas. Nan. This week is fired forever.