For the spring semester of my freshmen year I took a Intro to Theatre course. It counted as an elective towards the Fine Arts degree I was currently pursing. Coming from a theatrical family, I thought it would be a fun class to take. Little did I realize that the course would be influential in changing my plan for life.
As a part of our homework, we were supposed to watch as many plays as we could. I found a recording of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Nicholas Nickleby at the Bethlehem Library. It was only nine hours long, and, being a lover of British literature, it seemed like a perfect way to fulfill some homework.
If you haven't seen the recording, watch it. It's a fascinating adaptation, with a very good example of how narration can be used to enhance - not dumb down - a script, and the acting is superb. I was enthralled for all nine hours of the impressive production, but it was the ending, the very last few minutes, the button of the play, that convinced me to change my major.
After a unique sort of curtain call where the actors all came on stage and narrated the epilogues for their characters, the focus of the stage went from the group to a destitute boy, sitting center stage, surrounded by snow, who had frozen to death. Nicholas - played by Roger Rees - notices him immediately, but does not reach out to him. Several beats of moving towards and away from the body follow. At last, Nicholas picks up the boy, cradling his body to his chest, and stares down the audience.
That moment taught me the power of theater. Even though I was watching a recording of a performance, I was moved. My complacency towards the suffering was shaken. From the thunderous applause and cheers of the audience who had the privilege of watching the performance live, I knew they were moved too. That moment taught me that theater can be used to expose and to encourage.
The amazing actor Roger Rees died two weeks ago. I saw the announcement of it on Facebook and even though I had no clue what the name of the man who had played Nicholas Nickleby was, I instantly recognized his obituary picture as the actor who shaped my vision for theater. Until I watched Nicolas Nickleby, my family was considering letting Players of the Stage end, so you could say that Roger Rees is responsible for POTS existence. Had I not watched his performance, I would not have the vision that I have of using theater to impact people's lives. That final image of him holding that boy has stuck with me for the last seven years. Through my years of involvement in Players of the Stage, I pray there will be at one moment that sticks with our audience as powerfully as that call to compassion has stuck with me.
Thank you for giving of yourself so powerfully Mr. Rees. May you rest in peace.