My high school drama teacher died this week. It makes me sad. There are some people who made significant impressions on me growing up and he was one of them.
I am really quite an introvert. But for some reason, I liked to act. In my speech class I had created what was called a dramatic interpretive for possible competition on the travelling speech team, of which I was a member. And so sophomore year I did it in drama class one day. Mr. Hess, after talking with my speech teacher, put me in the contest play. I had to switch all my classes around so I could be in 6th period drama. For the next three years I was in 6th period drama and each year was in the contest play.
It was a big deal. You knew it if you were selected to be in 6th period drama and you were in the contest play every year. You were committed. During certain parts of the year we practiced at seven in the morning, after school, and again at seven in the evening. We had weekend practices on Saturday and Sundays. We got to know each other very well. Mr. Hess wasn’t just our high school teacher. He was a mentor, a coach, a director, a producer………an influencer.
My senior year we competed with the play Peer Gynt in contest play. There were six high schools in our district. I won best actress in the district that year for my portrayal of Peer Gynt’s mother; I was a skinny little blond-haired girl playing a kind of fat old woman who died on stage.
I remember so distinctly when, some time later, Mr. Hess and I were sitting on the front row of my high school auditorium by ourselves and he told me quietly how proud he was of me and how it was about time that I won an award for my acting. He said no one deserved it as much as I did. That’s all the accolades I needed. I didn’t need a big deal made out of my award. For a quiet man who I admired greatly to tell a shy girl that he was proud of her and that I deserved the award has served me for a lifetime.
The skills, work ethics, and lessons about humanity that I learned in drama and speech were by far the most valuable things I learned in high school. They made the most profound effect on my professional life. I owe much of that to a very incredible drama teacher.
Mr. Hess left teaching high school drama soon after we graduated to direct the outdoor musical TEXAS in Palo Duro Canyon for many years. He’s taught ballet and other forms of dance for as long as I’ve known him. He’s influenced generations of artists.
Rest in Peace, Neil Hess. You are one lovely man. Your memory dances quietly in my soul.