"I have discovered, as an actor, that playing a character requires that I find that person in me. Of course, as David Mamet points out, there is no character, only lines on paper; and that's particularly true in this case, since Rose provides virtually no information about the character's life or background. But the lines on the paper indicate that Juror 8 is someone who can sway a group of men to his view, exerting the kind of moral and persuasive leadership needed to do that, and finding that in myself has been a wonderful and growth-producing experience.” – Bruce Hyde
Bruce was the kind of actor most of us would like to hope we are: forever changed by each experience, pulling life lessons from each role and transferring them into our day–to-day lives. A lot of us don’t do that very consistently – sometimes a show is just a show. But for Bruce, that was the key to each and every one of his performances – everything was a lesson, every role broadened his own world…everything was a possibility.
While he was by no means method, he certainly carried the weight of his characters off stage during rehearsals. His wonderful wife, Susan, talked of how deeply he was affected by his roles, and how she ended up having to spend a lot of time “living” with the characters, which could certainly be a task – Willy Loman, Don Corleone, Henry Drummond. She told me once, to my utmost delight, “I like Elwood P. Dowd. Thanks.”
The news hit on Thursday that he had passed away, and it came as a shock to most people. He had been very private about his illness – willing to talk of it, but not willing to share everything before he was asked. He was simply too busy enjoying the time he had to seek pity or remorse about it. But I do wish that Bruce could have heard the things that have been said about him from the theater community while he was still with us. I think they would have made him smile:
A damn fine actor.
A lovely human being.
A lovely man.
A wonderful soul.
A lovely man.
A beautiful soul.
Sweet and talented.
A prince of a man.
A lovely soul.
Kind and gentle.
A good human being.
That’s certainly a pattern no one can complain about.
I directed Bruce in a number of shows, but had the privilege of performing with him several times – he played Candy in my first time round on Of Mice and Men (and the long bunkhouse scene between him and Steve Sweere’s George was a master class in performance I got to view firsthand every night) – and the other was an involuntary weekend I had to go on as Hornbeck in Inherit the Wind. I had only two days notice and no put-in rehearsal, and so my first time rattling off his half a dozen verse monologues was in front of Bruce and in front of a full audience. Bruce, as always was incredibly in the moment with me, never breaking eye contact – although his eyes told a different story than the character might have. After each monologue would come pouring out of my panicked face, he would smile and nod his head, 100% in character and yet 100% Bruce saying “Wow, didn’t think you’d get through that one. Wanna do another?” Even in this chaotic, un-rehearsed moment, I’ll be damned if he wasn’t soaking in the whole experience.
There are so many things that can sum up his beautiful nature that a book should be written – let’s get on that, shall we? A few that come to mind:
- He was a brilliant teacher, full of passion and warmth. I envy the students who developed their skills under his watchful eye (although, I guess we all did, to be fair.)
- He could give you eight different line readings on the word “fuck”. And they’d somehow all be correct.
- One night, at Theatre L’Homme Dieu (where he was Artistic Director), he somehow figured out that Leslie Ball was a singer, and he immediately corralled her to the piano, where for the next three hours, he played every standard and show tune he knew or could get his hands on, while she serenaded the entire company as we sat around a fire. (Tell me the entire world wasn’t a better place for that evening.)
Recently Bob Malos and Ari Hoptman had the chance to go visit Bruce . I had to decline due to a prior commitment, a decision I will now regret for a very long time. Bruce told them he was “having a wonderful death”, an incredible testament to his experience-based life. Around the same time, Bruce wrote:
“I can see that while one's body inevitably weakens with age, one's capacity for being open to the world, and to experiencing its possibilities, can continue to grow and deepen. I am being in the world more freely now than I have ever been. My circumstances are what they are, my feelings vary, and I am satisfied.”
May we all allow the world to make such an impact on us.
May we all impact other’s so profoundly.
And may the description of our life after our death be nothing to complain about.
May we all have such an experience.