We’re closing in on year in review season for the national media, that glorious time when all of the news outlets look back on the past 12 months and boil down their already boiled-down stories to a smattering of vaguely familiar bullet points that all seemed like The Most Important Thing in the World not so long ago. Usually those wrap-ups reserve some space for a brief roster of notable people who died that year. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a memorial montage. In a melancholy way, it’s fun to flip through the famous names and faces and do the whole, “Oh, I still can’t believe she died so young… Wow, I thought he’d died years ago” routine. I’m already practicing my mournful sigh for all the two-sentence eulogies of Lou Reed I’ll be reading over the next month.
It’s one thing to engage with a highlight reel of famous dead people you loved from afar and quite another to watch the lives of people you actually knew and admired flash before your eyes. I’d never seen an In Memoriam slideshow in person until I attended this year’s Ivey Awards. It was a remarkable experience to say the least. As an arts writer, and one relatively new to the theater scene, I’m at a considerable remove from the day-to-day of the actual productions. As such, I didn’t personally know any of the artists, technicians and patrons whose names and visages flashed across the big screen at the State Theater that night. But I knew many of them by reputation. I’d watched their deaths reverberate across the Playlist community throughout 2013, enough so that I was able to nod in recognition as each new luminary loomed over me.
The audience reaction was a wonderful thing to witness. I heard respectful applause, forlorn sighs and more than a few bittersweet chuckles. I doubt many people in the room knew each and every person honored that night, but everyone included in the reel had a sizable contingent of appreciators in the crowd. Even if we didn’t have a personal bond with the people being memorialized, we all recognized that these were members of our expansive yet close-knit community. Each life projected on that screen had helped make theater in Minnesota, and we sincerely loved them for it.
In the midst of all this, my mind drifted to a close friend of mine who’d died the year before. He was a fantastic person, a cultural connoisseur and an accomplished academic. After he died, I found myself in charge of his online estate – informing far-flung Facebook friends of his passing, posting a memorial blog that would make it easier for long-lost acquaintances to find him on Google and generally keeping an eye on the remnants of his virtual life. I was impressed and touched at the outpouring of love he received from people from all corners of the world. It was a beautiful testament to the many lives he’d touched. But as lovely as it was to see that, I was also acutely aware that, as my friend’s curator, I was the only one who got to see the breadth of his posthumous impact. Underemployed academics don’t get put in slideshows.
I know this sounds like I’m about to take a turn into bitterness on my friend’s behalf, but that’s not where I’m going. Rather, that realization just made me appreciate all the more what an incredible thing we have here in the Twin Cities. We have a living, thriving arts community that’s supportive almost to a fault. Every Friday my social media feeds overflow with announcements of arts events – people promoting their own work, sure, but just as many if not more putting in plugs for cool things their friends are involved in this weekend. Everybody’s out there retweeting a pal’s glowing review in the Star Tribune, sharing a co-worker’s audition notice, making a guest appearance on a friend of a friend’s podcast. I know our scene isn’t without its ugliness and backbiting, but what I see displayed on a daily basis is a community where a whole lot of people have a whole lot of other people’s backs. And when one of those people reaches the end of his or her strutting and fretting, we put them up on a big screen and give thanks for everything they did to make our artistic existences a little more amazing.
If I died tomorrow, I can’t say for sure that I’d be in that number next year (I did take note of at least one journalist among the Ivey memorials this year, so fingers crossed), but even if not, I know I’d be remembered by an arts community that I count myself lucky to be even a peripheral part of. Whatever you believe about death and the afterlife or whatever name you want to give it, you have to take comfort in knowing that your memory will be carried on within the scene you devoted so much of your life to.
Since this is the season of giving thanks, I suppose I’d say that’s the one thing I’ve been most thankful for in my almost year-long tenure at Playlist: being part of this beautiful hive of creativity and inspiration where so many people really understand just what a good thing we’ve got. Thanks for being thankful, everybody.