It’s been a while since updating. I wish I had a happier entry to start back on, perhaps a post mortem about Sidekicks (which finished last night) or something stupid Errol did…but I got some sudden news, and there are thoughts that need to get out. So be ye warned. Manda is sad.
Last week, after a long battle with cancer, my highschool drama teacher Gibb passed away.
Her name was Lynda Gibb. We all, even her students, just called her Gibby.
In many ways, she was typical of a drama teacher. She wore dangly jewelry. She had us do weird breathing exercises which, at the time, made absolutely no sense to me and especially infuriated the musical theatre star in our class who stated that this is not what real acting is. She would ask us to take something incredibly seriously even though many had taken the class simply to get their arts credit.
But in so many other ways she was not typical in the slightest. She was tough as nails in her approach to teaching, taking little crap from anybody and unafraid to raise her voice against a student (something which I’m sure would barely fly in today’s play-it-safe environment). She would run out to “check her car” in the middle of class which was code for taking a smoke.
She taught all of her classes in a converted garage of the school, with a makeshift stage and lighting booth for us to practice in, plastered with photos and posters of past shows from a far more arts-friendly era that schools don’t really budget for now. It was her domain, and it became our domain, a place we could hang out at lunch or practice after school.
And she was absolutely crazy. A lecture with Lynda Gibb was an adventure to say the least. Every day we would gather in the (often underheated) garage and she would put up an overhead of chicken scratch notes which she would barely stick to. According to Gibb, Robin Hood searched for the Holy Grail and Jesus was responsible for Russian theatre. And God help you if you didn’t write every single tangent down, because it could end up on a quiz somehow.
If she called you “kid”, it was a term of endearment. If she called you “dear” you had better hope there was an exit close by.
She did things her way, whether it made sense or not. She drove some kids nuts with her antics, and understandably so.
She put a lot of trust in her students, and pushed them when she knew there was potential, even if they hated her for it.
She was one of the biggest influences on my life, and one of the best.
There are so many stories I could tell. The Elizabethan Dinners I participated in when I was just 14. The Battle of the Desk, an old teacher’s desk at the back of her class that other kids would lay claim to. Her tendency to completely forget which pop can was for drinking and which was for cigarette ashes.
But given the turn my life has taken right now, there’s been a memory that keeps coming back to me.
In my final year, I was gearing up to audition for the school play. I was desperate to be in it after three years of nothing (there was a lot of political unrest in the schools at that time) At the same time I took a creative writing class. We all had to do an independent study project. Because I was bound and determined by that point to have a career in the theatre, I chose to write my own play. The presentation would be the play itself, fully produced in the drama room.
I ended up writing a play about writing a play, in which an author converses with her characters and they argue about how a murder mystery should pan out. It was, in my young naive highschool opinion, the most original thing ever conceived and clearly no one had ever thought of such an idea nor would ever do so again (sigh…oh highschool Manda…how silly you were). But even thinking the idea was perfect, I knew the execution wasn’t.
It was arduous, it was fun, it was stress ridden but long story short presentation day came and went and despite the lights malfunctioning and my nerves almost exploding I got through it unscathed. My poor friends who I had dragged in as actors managed not to kill me despite the injuries some of them sustained. I knew I had at least not failed.
Teachers talk of course. Mr. Rooke (another teacher I was extremely grateful for) must have said something to Gibb because suddenly in between classes she found me in the hallways.
“Hey, kid, I heard the play went great. Change of plans, you’re not allowed to audition. You’re going to be my assistant director”. And she walked away.
I was devastated. I didn’t want to be a director. I wanted to be up there, on that stage. I wanted to act. It was where I belonged. What did the play have to do with it? I couldn’t really write. I couldn’t direct.
I did as I was told, of course, not understanding, bitter at first but slowly growing into my role as Gibb’s go-to in rehearsals. I was satisfied with knowing that soon I would be in university, learning to be an actor. In my opinion, I was simply not cut out to be a writer or producer.
A couple of years later, I visited Gibb, telling her about my adventures so far in the acting world. I lamented there weren’t many parts for someone like me, that I would have to wait a few years before a character actor like myself could properly be cast.
She looked thoughtful for a moment, and then asked “Would you ever consider writing again? What about comedy?” I laughed, saying perhaps, but that I didn’t really have much to say. She shrugged. It was my decision, not hers. All she could do was advise, and I respected her for that.
“Actors are a dime a dozen” was what she added at the end (so are writers, but eh, who’s keeping track).
Maybe not forcing the subject was what planted seeds in my head.
Now, suddenly…I find myself trying out writing. I have a lot to learn, but I’m growing. And I can’t help but think about her. She knew where my talent lay. She was one of the first people to try to convince me to try it.
Last night Sidekicks wrapped up. Overall I’m happy with how it went. We were well received, we got good reviews, the cast and crew were fantastic, and my mind is still reeling that our words are up there being performed and that my adventures into the writing world seem to be continuing.
At the end we all celebrated as we normally do with a cast party. It was full of wine and nachos and sweet potato fries, thanks and accolades all around for the great collaboration we had accomplished.
I’m sad that I did not get the chance to thank her for all she had done for me and share my new experiences. I wanted to visit her when I heard she was sick. I was told that her mind was no longer there.
She taught me my very first lessons about comedy. She helped me build confidence and a sense of independence that I didn’t have the opportunity to practice elsewhere. She believed in me and a lot of other students that went through her classrooms, though she would never say so and to get a full compliment was like catching a Hylian loach (zelda reference…).
When my friends and I reminisce about our drama class days, we laugh about all of the craziness that we experienced. We recite Gibb quotes and groan at the lesson she drilled into our minds since Day 1 (Art is a reflection of man in his society at any given point in time). We marvel at the fun we had.
I hope that wherever she is, there is no more pain, that Robin Hood is showing her his Holy Grail and that there is a stage for her to command and dictate as she pleases.
Goodbye, Gibb. Death is easy. Comedy is hard.
…She would kill me if she saw me getting this sappy about her.
Edit: Other memorable things I should make mention of: her inability to deal with any technology made after 1990 (one of the reasons we were unable to keep in touch, I’m afraid), learning about Comedia Dell’Arte and doing it in the style of Star Trek (even though she had no clue what it was), her love of Monty Python