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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A Fridean Odyssey

This will be the final post in a series in this blog about working with the late Jonathan Frid.  Today I was reminded of an important lesson I learned about myself when working with John.  Earlier this morning I was asked to create digital signage for the television screens in a large building.  I have had some training in this but not had a chance to actually do it.  Now I have been asked, given the slides and have to go through the initial nervousness of doing something I have never done before and hoping I get it right for the customer.

Back around 1990, Jonathan asked me to help him develop a Shakespearean Reader's Theater show which would be called Jonathan Frid's Shakespearean Odyssey.  It is a myth that Jonathan performed mostly in Shakespeare productions in his career - he did not.  He credited his classical theater training to the works of the Bard.  When he talked to me about the show, I cautioned him that it would not be a big seller even on the college circuit.  The acting workshops we developed to accompany a booking at a college or university would similarly be based on Shakespeare.  However, this is what he wanted to do.  So I did it.

What filled me with fear and much trepidation was being asked to write narrative to weave together the scenes that filled up the show, and the different plays being presented.  While as an English major I had much exposure to Shakespeare, I really didn't know that much about the plays in an analytical way.  I should be the last person explaining to the viewing audience what the hell was going on.   But I was charged with this task and as nervous and incompetent as I felt, it had to be done.  He was patient.  I went to Canada with Jonathan when he did a first run of the show at his alma mater McMaster University.  The show went well and most of the audience comprised of Jonathan's family and friends, many of whom he grew up with.  It was the first time I met one of his brothers and a slew of relatives that I would see many times again in the next 15 years.

What impressed me the most about Jonathan's family, whose homes I would be welcomed into so many times, is how nice and funny they all could be.  And classy.   They called Jonathan "Mort" because from childhood his ears were protruding and reminded them of Mortimer Snerd.  I never heard family member or long time friend call him anything but Mort Frid.

I digress - the Shakespeare show wasn't a popular show, however, watching Jonathan go from one character to the next and then one play to the next playing the narrator AND the character was simply amazing.  He was amazing.  Somehow I managed to pull off a respectable narrative for him, Jonathan made his own changes, of course, and a cohesive show was formed.  I learned the lesson that somehow, no matter how scared I am, I manage to land on my feet.

I launched Jonathan's website in 1998 partly to promote the charity performances I was producing for him state-side and also so he could do reader's theater programs on the internet.  He even learned to type!  I was a novice at website building and did my best to upload sound and video onto the server.  Naturally, it was better that Jonathan hire someone there in Canada to be with him as it was getting difficult to travel to Canada every six weeks as I was doing to work on the website and develop content.  Fortunately, Jonathan was able to get good help and eventually when he wanted to focus on Richard III for the website around 2006, I was burned out but knew someone who could help him and was frequently in Canada.  Eventually, she would take over what I used to do for Jonathan.

What I learned from Jonathan in the many years I worked for and with him was to persevere.  That came in handy because after 2006 my life took an unexpected and ugly turn with the loss of work, eventually no income and dealing with skin cancer and no insurance.  That period lasted until February 2011 when I finally got full-time work again.  Knowing how Jonathan pushed forward no matter what was a great inspiration for me in these darker times.  There were times I didn't think I would survive it all with all the pressures, however, I did get back on track.  Jonathan once told me "Don't hate what you have" and that meant deal with what you have and make the best of it.  I would tell myself in the worst of times, there were people in more dire straits than I was.  At least I had family who would help out when they could.   I had friends who did the same, providing emotional support.  Jonathan grew more emotionally distant with age, not unusual.  I saw that in my grandparents.  Early in the 2000s, Jonathan said he felt himself "turning inward" which I initially dismissed, out of denial, but I saw he had less and less to do with people, some he had known for decades.  Again, I saw this with my own grandparents.  It was harder to stay in touch but I was so preoccupied with my own disasters that was the least of my problems.

What is consoling is that Jonathan was surrounded by people who had his best interests at heart, were local, and he could trust.   All of us should do that well in any stage of our lives.


Anonymous said...

It's been fascinating reading about your creative (/technical) work with Jonathan Frid. Thank you for this.

Nancy Kersey said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Had the pleasure of seeing a little of his one man performance at the Dark Shadows in the Sun convention in Burbank. I believe that was his last California appearance. R.I.P.