Mr. Mark (he asked me to call him Phil when I was an adult and I could never do it) was my junior high school music teacher. I walked into the 7th grade with a bit of talent. I loved to sing, and I was just beginning to discover acting. Just the seed had been planted. I sang in his choir and at the end of the year he invited me to audition for a summer musical. I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan and in those days the Parks and Recreation department had the funds for lots of interesting summer endeavors. Mr. Mark thought it would be great to gather a bunch of students from all over the city and put on a musical. I was game. That first show was titled, aptly enough, On With the Show. We worked on it all summer for a few days each week, and at the end of the summer we performed it. Heaven. I met all sorts of wonderful people and I was hooked. That next year, in Junior High School, I was Little Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore and I learned to love Gilbert and Sullivan. Still do. The next summer, we did Oliver, and then we went on to perform The King and I, Carnival, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Oliver again (when I was older, this time I got to play the lead), Once Upon a Mattress, The Mikado. I kept on doing these shows through college and even did one after graduating from college.
Through it all I learned how to work with others, what upstage and downstage was, how to sing and act onstage, how to shape a character – how to have fun. I became very close to his family and spent many, many hours at their house. Last year, Mr. Mark’s wife Earlene passed away. And now we have lost Mr. Mark.
I can’t describe how much this man meant to me, to my life, to my wishes and dreams. I went on to do all sorts of shows in high school, to major in Drama in college, and eventually to get my MFA in Acting. All because someone had a dream he wanted to share with kids. He could have taken the summers off. He didn’t. He spent all summer shepherding a bunch of young, green actors and singers through the rehearsal process so that we could create something magical. And we performed the shows, at least several of them, under a tent. Total magic.
My best friend and I spent this morning crying and sharing memories of this time with Mr. Mark. Laural and I have known each other since I was in 7th grade and she was in 8th. We met and bonded during that time, during On With the Show. We had often spoken of meeting in Dearborn (she lives outside of Chicago now) and visiting Mr. Mark once again. Too late. I think he knew how much he meant to me, to Laural, and to so many who were blessed to have known him. I hope so with all my heart.
Bless you and thank you Mr. Mark.