Impressions and Recollections of an Artistic Leader
I recently learned that a past theatre collaborator, Vincent Dowling, died 11 months ago in Boston. I was sorry to hear this news, though Dowling was 83 and apparently in declining health. I was also sorry to learn it belatedly; the discovery was prompted by googling his name to see what he might be up to after learning that one of his granddaughters is currently appearing onstage at a prominent San Francisco theatre.
It was very inspiring to be able to work with Vincent at an early juncture in my career, when I was getting accustomed to a freelance-based work lifestyle I would enjoy more or less full-time for the next four years. He always had a glint in his eye and could clearly have lots of stories to tell, though I was both awestruck and respectful about his extensive theatre accomplishments and history, so I didn’t ask “so, what’s Tom Hanks like?” or “what’s it like to work at the Abbey Theatre?“… but I certainly thought it at times. An Irish op-ed sums up his legacy well – and adds an intriguing, and unsurprisingly slightly shocking, post-script.
The production at hand for us in Chester in 2007 was actually a double bill – “Dear Liar” and “The Gravity of Honey” – and will likely continue to stand as one of my most intense ever theatrical production experiences. We had six weeks to put up the two shows, and they almost completely shared a production team (I served as ASM) with Vincent directing one show and acting in the other, his daughter Bairbre appearing in both shows, and acting opposite David Birney appearing in the other show. By the time tech week rolled around, I was really feeling the intensity of the project, which had progressed from a modest start rehearsing in an old town hall to actually being in the performance space (in another town hall) and going right from one show to the next, while really living and breathing the theatrical environment in my staying in accommodation a short walk away… but I look back on it and know that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. (Something about that theatrical intensity!)
Regardless of the intensity, Vincent brought a graceful and spirited touch to the whole rehearsal and production process, nearly always offering a smile and twinkle in his eye along with a dedicated commitment to the craft. He seemed to inspire much loyalty in his collaborators (nearly everyone involved with the shows had worked with him before) and a recognition of the artistic commitment involved in putting on a play. I recall that I even felt inspired to come to rehearsals and performances in almost (but not quite) suit and tie garb … unheard of for a stage manager, but I felt that the project deserved that level of respect and commitment.