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Memories of Marie Miller

by Ken Sears

Private LivesWith a sense of nostalgia and affection I just have to add a word to this site about Marie Miller. My experience of "Theatre Adelphi" (and "college" in general) was a disjointed one, inasmuch as I transferred to Adelphi in my sophomore year, joined the freshman theater class (Helen, Fred, Mary Jo, Carol, Mike, etc.) for one year and then jumped to the juniors (Nelly, Fran, Kerry, Kathy, Sandy, etc.) for the final two. Pretty much the way my whole life had gone up to then (never living anywhere for more than a couple of years) it was all rather a blur.

But there are a few crystallized moments, and Marie is one of them for me. I was pretty much focused on one teacher through those three rushed years, and that was Jacques. The rest, for various reasons that do not reflect in the least on them, were rather on the blurry periphery for me, including Marie. I noticed early on, before I had any clear notion which teacher she was, that a "Marie" was the object of a certain amount of humor among the students... I recall hearing "Marie imitations", with quavering voice: "Out of the night that covers me...." And when I finally took her speech and acting classes, I did recognize that she was of a different time and "dimension" altogether (much as we fifty-somethings are bound to be, sooner or later, to the know-it-all eighteen year-olds). But I came quickly to appreciate her unselfconscious, childlike love of sound and beauty. I was about to discover that there was a whole lot more there, too, behind the fragile facade....

Out of the blue, Marie asked me one day whether I would like to take part in a "stairwell production" of Candida, as Marchbanks; I was delighted to do so. The cast first included Laura Perrotta as Candida but when she suddenly and mysteriously disappeared Dawn Swan stepped in, and was wonderful! There was another cast change along the way, too, with Chris Trotter stepping in for a student (I can "see" him but can't remember his name) who hadn't been keeping his grades up to snuff. The rest of the cast was Scott Mallalieu and one of the other women from our class ('79) whose face I can also see vividly but whose name I can't remember.

I was an extremely "quick read", which usually (there were exceptions!) gave me a kind of head start - rather like the hare and the tortoise story. But... like the hare... I tended to be satisfied with the distance I'd covered with my first burst and coast from there. Worse, I didn't realize it. Marie was the first teacher/director who ever called me on it and revealed to me - obvious though it may sound to us all now, but to my twenty-year-old head of mush it WAS a revelation! - that there were much deeper places to go. She told me pointblank, kindly but firmly, that I was coasting on the strength of my initial reading and starting to fall behind while the others were making new discoveries. When I actually heard it in words, I knew it was true - and while there may have been a slight "ouch" factor (who likes to get called on the carpet?), there was also the tremendous sense of a door opening. I mostly felt grateful: in fact, Marie had given me PERMISSION to "do more".

When I reflect on that moment, and see Marie looking me squarely in the eye, telling me "what's what", I realize, as I did then, how much more, marvelously more, substance and grit and imagination there was in this dear woman than, perhaps, our humor and parodies suggested. Thanks to Marie, I did dig deeper and, as a result, that production of Candida was one of the most rewarding and, dare I say, magical creative experiences of my life - I think, not only for me, but for the whole cast. It was just a perfectly happy thing to have done. And Marie was thrilled with it all. I remember her just about ecstatic, congratulating us, after our final performance. And when I recall the joy in her face that night, I smile. Thank you, Marie.

With love,
Ken Sears
Zaporozhye, Ukraine