Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In Praise of passing teachers.

Most of us are pretty arrogant when we get to high school. Even the most modest of us. We are smarter than our parents who are exceedingly uncool and say the most ridiculous things. We know who we are and we know exactly what we are doing and where we are going and anyone that tells us otherwise is either full of shit or just has no idea what is going on.

This disease goes on until we start to approach 30. Then we start to realize that WE were the assholes and that we have a ways to go. If we are lucky.

A man named Jerome Eskow, who was the head of the Drama Department in my high school for many years before and after I went there, passed away a couple of days ago after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease.

I went to the High School of Performing Arts here in New York City. Most of you will know it as The Fame School. I hate that moniker, but that's a blog for another day. I entered the school in September of 1977 as a Sophomore and graduated in June of 1980. Yes, I'm that old.

To this day I consider my time in High School pretty much the most amazing years of my life. Not all happy, mind you, but every moment pretty fucking wonderful. I experienced all the awfulness that goes with adolescence. Confusion, anger, social awkwardness, etc. In spite of all that I enjoyed a level of creativity, exploration and artistic growth that I've never had since. Jerome Eskow was more responsible for that than any teacher I've ever had.

That's not how I felt about him through most of high school. Only toward the end did I begin to suspect how brilliant the man truly was, and how much he loved us and the school.

He came across as rather pompous, sitting on the edge of his desk, legs crossed, his hands cupped a foot or so from his face as his gravelly, slow voice expounded on and on about acting theory, theater history, "the business".

To so many of us, it seemed like endless droning by a man who loved to hear himself talk. While there's possibly a grain of truth to that, the fact is that we suffered from our own pomposity. The pomposity I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. We suffer from this pomposity to the extent that we don't hear the grains of wisdom that are offered to us. And as I came to realize later, Jerome Eskow offered a lot.

I won't get into the specific lessons here all at once. A lot of them won't make sense outside of the Theater. But one thing he said once has always stuck with me.

"We have to say I hate you a lot before you can really get to I love you" I don't remember the context of the day's lesson. But the point of what he was saying was that to truly love someone, or something, you have to really know them and accept them, warts and all. You have to pass through the negatives because at the end of all that is the positive that was there in the first place. The love.

As time passed and after I graduated, I would visit the old school, which later became the new school when it moved into a large and (to my mind) still soulless building a bit further uptown, I found that Jerry (who seemed to prefer me calling him that after graduation) had more to teach, more to talk about. But more and more it was about me and self acceptance. I continued to watch the way he would talk, the way he held himself...and it occurred to me that it wasn't so much pomposity as it was...PASSION.

Slow, gravelly, deep and I think even luxurious passion.

My life went on...I drifted away from visiting, Mr. Eskow retired as did most of my teachers. The last of the teachers that were there retired just a couple of years ago (while my daughter was a senior in that soulless structure).

I sent an email to Mr. Eskow a couple of years ago. Or I meant to. I never heard back from him, it occurred to me and its possible that either his Parkinson's made it too hard or that I, in my ADD just flaked on it.

It is a regret. I don't think I ever told Jerry how much I've grown to admire him as I've gotten older (more mature?). I didn't tell him that despite my rather disappointing career (so far) that much of my deepening as an actor and a teacher comes from the things he taught me, even if they took awhile to soak in.
I had other teachers at P.A. that I loved. Some were inspiring, others were brilliant in subtle ways, some, honestly, weren't very good at all.

Jerry seeped in, someone planting seeds in the dark of night while every one is sleeping. Then one afternoon you wake up...and there's a tree.

Rest In Peace, Jerry. Thanks for the trees.

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