Thursday, March 5, 2009
Horton Foote died last night. Most of you probably don't know who that is, so I'll tell you. He was an amazing playwright and screenwriter. He won the Pulitzer Prize and two Oscars. He wrote the screenplay for "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Tender Mercies." I didn't know any of this when I was a kid. But I did know that he wrote a play called "A Young Lady of Property," which I did a scene from in my Advanced Acting class at the A.C.T. Young Conservatory. I always remembered that through the years.
When I graduated college, the first job I had was as an onstage production assistant in an Off-Broadway production of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful." I had to do crew duties backstage and assist the stage manager, but for about 10 minutes a night, I got to sit onstage in costume, in full view of the audience on the same stage as Lois Smith and Hallie Foote. In the official script of the production, there are stage directions that pertain to me and "my character," so if I ever stop believing for a minute that I wasn't really in that show, I can remind myself that I was.
Horton was there in the rehearsal room with us, smiling, nodding along. He was very gracious and quiet, but he was such a presence in the room. As an aspiring actress on her first big show in New York, it was like being in a room with a former president (one of the good ones that you really liked). I went into work every day not really believing that this was my job, that I was so lucky to get paid $100 a week to work my ass off, just so I could be in the same room as him.
On opening night, he gave every member of the cast and crew signed copies of his memoirs. When I opened mine up, on the title page was inscribed "To Lena, thanks for your lady traveler - Horton."
Somewhere in the archives of the Signature Theatre Company, there exists a picture of the four production assistants onstage with Horton. I wish I had a copy, but even though I don't, I will always remember Horton Foote. His plays will live on, I have no doubt.