It’s always an awkward situation when leadership of an organization transitions. The smartest model, of course, is for the outgoing leader to separate cleanly and to fade quietly into the past. That’s much better then having someone hanging around, creating an awkward situation as the old seems to want to cling while the new feels constraint.
When it came time for me to leave Avant Bard Theatre (previously known as Washington Shakespeare Company and WSC Avant Bard), I was leaving the group I had helped to found and that I had led for more than 16 years. How lucky I was to be followed by Tom Prewitt.
Tom’s effort to have me continue to feel at home was genuine and, I’m sure, not always easy. But Tom wanted it to work out and, because of his care, his generosity and his sensitivity, it did.
One of the hardest, most fascinating, and most maddening aspects of theater is how difficult it is to foresee what will work and what will not; which matching of play to director to designers to cast will make the aspic gel, and which will be disappointingly flat.
Looking back over the years, I am constantly surprised by how some of the things I most wanted to do as an artist ended up being the least satisfying experiences, and how things I accepted reluctantly ended up being the most satisfying experiences.
As I mentioned at the memorial, Tom, over the last few years, brought me a couple opportunities that I was not initially wildly excited about, but which ended up in that category of being surprisingly rewarding.
I didn’t incline immediately to the role of King Lear‘s Fool, but took the part trusting Tom‘s instinct, as well as wanting to join the attractive team he had assembled for the project. Working on the part and the play along with Tom and Rick Foucheux, who played Lear, I became increasingly excited. Thanks to their ideas and collaborative spirit, I look back on the experience as one of my most fondly remembered and most cherished.
I didn’t think that Truman Capote‘s Holiday Memories would be a particularly good fit for me. However, as I explored with Tom the glorious language of the piece and negotiated the tricky balance between imitation and creation, I finally luxuriated in the part, the play, the production, and the process, and was again a beneficiary of Tom’s acute artistic judgment.
I also mentioned at the memorial that it was Tom’s intellect and his breath of knowledge about and devotion to the literature of the theater (and literature more broadly) that first impressed me about him and inspired me to target him as my successor. What was special about him was his intellectual curiosity. He never spoke to impress others with his mind, and he was always open to and eager to learn about things with which he was not yet acquainted.
Many of us from the DC theatre community were on the Zoom memorial organized by Tom’s family, but some of us also felt that we wanted to have a time to focus on Tom’s career here, his impact on us, and the legacy he leaves us.
Please join us for this community memorial this weekend.
Tom Prewitt Memorial
Hosted by Woolly Mammoth Theatre
Sunday, December 13, 4pm
To join us, send an email here.