I wrote this February 20, 2009 at the age of 49 when I was in my final year at Yale Divinity School.
I tried very hard to fail Yale Divinity School’s daily chapel service and you can too. I chatted and walked in like I would to any other chapel service, but this one was different. My name was in the bulletin and I had other duties than just being present. I sat on the front row so I would not need to climb over any one when I made my way to the lectern. Don’t make a scene I told myself! I glanced at the order of worship and saw “Prelude” and “Introit.” I did not know the difference between a Prelude and an Introit because I was musically and liturgically challenged. I thought that the song the chapel minister taught us was the Introit, because I didn’t look at the words clearly printed on the bulletin. Had I been sitting on any other row and had no worship responsibilities, I would have realized what was going on but…
I marched right up to the podium and with my best church voice I confidently read the Leader portion and the People portion of the Call to Worship as if I knew exactly what I was doing. I was feeling pretty cocky and confident when I finished, because I hadn’t mangled a word or lost my place. My way over 40 year old eyes had worked pretty well without reading glasses. Good job! I said to myself. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! I was out of order, not the legal ‘out of order,’ but out of liturgical order which was much worse in my mind. I had done this in a room full of my friends…
The Introit was supposed to be sung BEFORE I read the Call to Worship. The Marquand Chapel Director and Choir had to patiently sit and wonder what exactly I was doing, as did the rest of the students and professors. Then the chapel minister smoothed over my poor timing with some sort of direction to the congregation that the Introit would be next and the strangest thing happened: no one was looking at me during the Introit. The service was not about me and my faux pas. People had their eyes closed or their heads bowed and the worship proceeded. I was not capable of keeping God out of the chapel!
Now I’m much too evangelical and washed in the blood of guilt to let myself off the hook that easily. I knew that I could still turn the whole service into a disaster by saying or doing something wrong during the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion/Eucharist (Christians use different terms) at which I was serving for the first time in my life. I had gone through about a 15-minute explanation the previous day but this wasn’t the service I was use to. I had numerous questions because I am a low church, evangelical Baptist in a high church, tradition-packed divinity school. Baptists consume the elements at the same time but most other denominations do not and the pastor reads either Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:17-20 and, Matthew 14:22-24 and the process goes something like this. Deacons (usually men chosen by a small group of men) pass silver plates of unleavened wafers as you would pass an offering plate through the congregation. Each congregant holds the wafer in her hand and waits for the whole congregation to receive their bread. Then the pastor reads:
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Mark 14:22
Then we all eat the wafer at the same time. Deacons return to the Lord’s Table, to receive a large silver tray filled with small pre-poured plastic cups filled with grape juice. Always grape juice! The same process is followed in distributing and consuming the juice. Then the pastor says:
23Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Mark 14:23-24
There is an sound specific to empty, plastic communion cups being put in the wood cup holders in the backs of each pew that I’ve never heard in any other environment. It echoes.
So you can see I was not working from muscle memory during the chapel service. As we prepared for Communion I was cemented to my seat. I wasn’t making a move until I saw the other servers coming to the front. I was going to do this right! I walked forward, didn’t trip, and received my basket of bread without dropping it. So far so good.
I still hadn’t settled on the right words to use as I served each person. My mind was flooded with possible words. As I stood with my basket of bread I heard myself speaking as I looked into the first person’s eyes, “The body of Christ broken for you.” Each time that I said those words, “The body of Christ broken for you,” I felt like a gift was given to me, the gift of service. I felt my very Italian eyes start to well-up, but I kept it together.
Serving others is all about you and not about you at all…. I not only heard, but I also felt the power and the presence of those words. I held my basket filled with Christ’s symbolic body and waited for the other servers to finish…and then the singing began. I was present as the servers served each other.
All was well with my soul!
Executive Director of Grant Me The Wisdom Foundation
Partner, Mcleod Sears LLC
The four inspirations and pillars of my theatrical career have been my early work with Athol Fugard, my decade and a half collaboration with Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti, my current work with Emily Mann, and having an incredible mentor early on in Ellen Sorrin. In the case of these vital mentors, all roads connect back to Yale.
The great South African playwright and director, Athol Fugard, had the first artistically significant, defining impact on the course of my career. With Athol, I emerged from my thesis production at Yale School of Drama, his world premiere of A Place With the Pigs, and continued my professional journey with him to Spoleto Festival USA and then to New York on a Broadway Production Contract with his stunning productions of The Road to Mecca. Through my collaborations with Athol, at such an early point in my career, he set my artistic goals high, and because of him I have always sought theater with a mission, thus gaining the drive to commit to an institution that captures the beliefs I have.
With Athol opening the door for me at Spoleto USA, once I had my first season with New York City Opera (also a Yale School of Drama connection, YSD graduate and lecturer Rik Kaye, that brought me on staff at NYCO), I returned to Spoleto USA as Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti’s Production Stage Manager and forged a partnership spanning more than a dozen years collaborating on 13 productions for the Maestro, and Spoleto USA and Italy.
Guest lecturing in Rik Kaye’s Production Management class at YSD, Ellen Sorrin, former director of the George Balanchine Trust, Jerome Robbins Trust and Managing Director of the New York Choreographic Institute at New York City Ballet, was everything I wanted to be as a woman in the arts industry.
Ellen quickly became my early career mentor opening opportunities for me in the New York City theater, dance and opera worlds. 35 years later we are still friends and peers.
My career journey has been exactly what the Yale School of Drama of the 1980’s trained me for. Production stage managers do not pick the productions presented at a theater, but we can pick the companies we want to work with. For the past 29 seasons and over 37 productions with Emily Mann, artistic director and resident playwright emeriti, I have found that artistic home at McCarter Theater. At this point in my career, aside from being a part of high-quality work, my greatest satisfaction lies in the mentoring and success of my inspiring staff and emerging young theater makers, passing on all I can give to the next generation of the finest stage managers.
Now, a year into my pandemic pivot, with the live theater industry shut down, I am a Founder and Partner of princetonVIRTUAL.com, producing and presenting virtual theater and events that make an impact on my communities. Never would I have imagined this would be a part of my career journey. I find myself reflecting on my vital mentors, and my Yale experience, as a guiding force as I continue with my artistic mission.
Founder | Partner | Creative Direction, princetonVIRTUAL.com
Resident Production Stage Manager 1990-2020 (closed due to pandemic)
McCarter Theater, Princeton, N.J.
Executive Board and Awards & Recognitions Chair
Stage Managers’ Association
Yale School of Drama MFA 1987
Ben DeLoache: A real character and a superb teacher who gave me as a singer the greatest gift of all
A scholarship student at the Yale School of Music, as a wide-eyed and excited pupil of Ben DeLoache, I earned an MMus in Voice in 1970 at the turbulent time of the Black Panther trials. Ben permitted me to take two lessons per week because I was so eager to learn how to sing well. I was a newlywed living in Stamford, taking the train to and from Yale every weekday, practicing my breathing during the trips.
Ben was larger than life - a big, bold, warm, funny baritone who had studied with the great Russian bass, Chaliapin. I will never forget the day Ben said "You've got it!" I was practically dancing with delight!
Many years later, while taking our son to a piano lesson with Donald Currier, I ran into Ben in New Haven, gave him a big hug and a kiss, told him my name, and asked if he remembered me. He said "No, but kiss me again!" That was Ben! Every time I think of him, I can't help but laugh and shake my head. He gave me as a singer the greatest gift I ever received: The joy of singing well!
The imposing Harkness Tower, looms above us daily, a pillar of excellence and a stark reminder of the special place we had the joy of calling home for four "bright college years". Over the course of those 8 semesters, we learned, we loved, we failed, we excelled - but most of all, we challenged ourselves daily, in a continuous effort to be better.
I would be remiss not to remark that the brilliant professors, rigorous coursework and unique internship opportunities offered at Yale did not constitute a big part of that transformation. In my mind, however, those will only come second to the kind, empathetic, intelligent, and (yes) flawed people I found myself surrounded with during my precious Yale journey.
Over the course of those four years, I had the privilege of getting to know some of the most special humans I have ever encountered. People who, when initially crossing my path, I considered to be too cool/intelligent/funny/special to spend their time around me. Gradually, however, those people made Yale home. And, gradually, each and every one of them allowed me to see their not-so-perfect side; and to encourage me to embrace my own imperfections.
I learned to open my heart wide open - even though that always carried the risk of having it get broken. I learned to approach others without expectations, and to allow them to blossom and impress me with their wonderful colors and brilliant hues. I learned to always speak my mind, with courage but with caution - willing to allow others to question or challenge my views. And I learned that, while being there for others is important, it is not always possible, nor is it always the right thing to do.
Yes, at Yale I learned how to be better. More importantly, however, I accepted the fact that, while I can always improve, I will never be perfect. And I learned that being imperfect is a crown to wear proudly on my head, not a secret to be hiding away in some dark corner of my being, masked behind a constantly smiling facade.
To arrive at Yale means to already be accomplished, but to be striving for more, for better, for greater. These are admirable traits, and characterised the way I approached extracurriculars, leadership roles, campus jobs and the eventual career search. Outside the classroom, I filled my days to the brim with these commitments, social engagements and trips to Blue State Coffee. But, color-coded Google calendar aside, what will always stay with me were the four years of unquantifiable joy that being an English major brought me.