Local theater lobbies just got a bit colder with the passing of Alan Friedman, 71, on September 19. Along with his husband Lou Altarescu, Alan was a fixture in the Washington theater scene, a warm and welcoming presence for decades as ushers for Round House Theatre, Washington Stage Guild, Theater J, Signature Theatre and many others.
Alan ushered at the Kennedy Center for 45 years, taught school in D.C. for 34 years and volunteered as an international medical courier, along with volunteer stints at Adas Israel, the National Building Museum, and the National Gallery of Art and ten local theaters.
Theater ushering is how I remember Alan and Lou best. It wasn’t a proper opening night without seeing them at their posts, Alan greeting critics and audiences alike with a smile that would light up a marquee and often wrapping you in a solid hug before sending you on your way, playbill in hand.
It was like a benediction, a touchstone, to see Alan and Lou at the theater, an assurance that everything was as it should be. Theater critic Trey Graham said it best in his Facebook post, noting that Alan and Lou were “such an essential and comfort-making part of the theater experience for me; you make me feel at home there, in the same way that the sound of an orchestra tuning makes me feel at home in the concert hall.”
Many times over the years, Alan and Lou would meet me for a quick bite before a show at the Folger, Everyman or some-such theater and we would laugh until we cried and it seemed like it wasn’t a successful meal if we weren’t wiping away tears to keep them from puddling the ketchup for our fries.
The mind is a funny thing. You trick yourself into believing everything is going to last forever. For me, that means all is right in the world whenever I go to the theater and my friend and fellow critic Jane Horwitz is at my side and Alan and Lou are there to greet me in the lobby.
When I went to Round House this summer to see A Doll’s House: Part Two at the Lansburgh, only Lou was there—warm and open-hearted as always. But something was missing—that sense of completeness, of welcoming—without Alan as a bookend to Lou at their ushering posts.
Lou updated me on Alan’s cancer battle, and I hugged him tightly, as did many other theater folk as they filed into the theater. I wondered what the rest of the audience was thinking—is hugging the usher a new form of theater protocol?
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Nothing lasts forever, no matter how much we wish the goodness in our lives would never end. Often, that goodness comes from the smallest moments, the tiniest of gestures. A good friend at your side to share theater with, Alan’s smiling face before you in the lobby, letting you know you’re home.
The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations in Alan’s memory be made to Edlavitch DCJCC Behrend-Adas Senior Fellowship or to the Washington Stage Guild.
Kristen Sheldon says
It was a pleasure to work with him as a volunteer at the National Building Museum as well. For nearly 15 years he welcomed and directed visitors to the museum. He will be greatly missed by all.
Debbie Jackson says
“Alan and Lou” – always the ultimate duo, rarely saw one without the other in and out of theater events over the years. They always made me feel so much at home in their presence. I recall with fondness the City Paper article highlighting their notorious love of theater. I treasure Alan’s memory and miss him deeply.
Elise Jay says
Lovely tribute Jayne.
Joy Johnson says
Alan and Lou were our go-to ushers on Press Nights at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. These two lovely humans knew everyone, and we believed just seeing Alan and Lou taking tickets would help put critics in a better mood before entering the theatre. On a more personal note, I would often see them at Dupont Italian Kitchen, and I spent many dinners at their table, laughing, catching up on theatre gossip, and learning a thing or two about the world. The loss of Alan will be felt all over the DMV, at every theatre he graced with his presence. I will miss his enveloping hugs most of all.
Laura Giannarelli says
Alan and Lou were close friends of our Washington Stage Guild “family”. Always together, they have been our Opening Night ushers for over twenty years. So gracious to all of our patrons and to the press. They were gracious hosts in whatever theatre they were ushering in on any given night.
When my husband and I visited Alan and Lou last month, Alan remembered that the first show they saw with us was John Bull’s Other Island by GB Shaw. They quickly became fixtures! They were family to us. Indeed, my husband and I had several “double dinner dates” with Alan and Lou over the years – trying restaurants together, the four of us – when our schedules would allow. Alan will be sorely missed.
A vivid memory I have of Alan’s unique gift with people is of a performance at the Stage Guild when a disturbed gentleman (perhaps homeless, but he purchased a ticket) left his seat and walked to the edge of the stage and began to mutter to the actors – who were trying gamely to carry on with the show. Alan took the initiative, gently approached him and whispered that perhaps it was time to go. He was so respectful and kind that the man accompanied him up the aisle and out of the theatre without resistance. I’ve always thought that no one else could have done that so well! Certainly, not I. Alan was one of a kind. His many years as a teacher stood him in good stead in that moment, I think. And his smile was always so radiant. Even once he became ill, that smile was still there. I’ll never forget him. Good bye, my friend.