Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In memory of Jack Booch

For those of you who don't know Jack!...this will fill in a very important link in the chain of artistry that is part of our theatrical history at Arts Equity. For those of you who did know Jack you have some indication of just who we lost when Jack passed, and how important he was to the work that we did at Arts Equity.

I sit to ponder my memories of Jack Booch because he was my most senior mentorial link in my four plus decade long career. I wonder if there will ever be another with his wit and wisdom? Jack could cut to the literary chase before most even knew it was a race. He never minced words especially amongst friends. A trait and a talent that will be hard to replace.

For those of us lucky enough reach senior status in the theatre, we know all to painfully how difficult it is to forge links with an older mentors in ourcollaborative chain. At the same time, we are often overwhelmed with neophytes clammering for a "chink in the chain"... youth who want to "glean the nuggets" of what we know and the how to's of moving ahead in their quest for a misconceived piece of celebrity.

Jack would have none of celebrity. Maybe it was his birth in Birmingham, Alabama or his intellectual prowess honed as a student at Reed College that gave him his edge and his take on the art world. Jack Booch's career included directing many of the theatre's great plays and great talents. A personal friend of Edward Albee and perhaps the director of the definitive version of "A Delicate Balance" certainly qualified him as a celebrity. As the Executive Producer for The Theatre Guild Inc. in Manhattan, Jack sheparded many a work from the theatrical canon to life on the boards. As a marketing director at the Kennedy Center I came to know of Jack as The Executive Director of The Theatre Guild in the mid 1980's.

I have many memories of Jack, three that stand out above the rest. Soon after an article appeared in our local weekly paper, The Vancouver Voice, Jack invited me and my producing partner Helene M. Rasanen to lunch. Jack loved good food and he loved to laugh. A laugh that was boisterous, poignant and politically incorrect while being "dead on". Over pasta and wine we shared a love of the great playwrights and a distain for the mediocre in performance. Jack was never above telling someone: "Don't quit your day job" and always he meant it when he said it.

I asked Jack once what he thought of a particular performance and his reply spoke volumes..."The only thing I remember" he said, "was at the intermission break they told us it was time to tinkle and have a cookie." You had to know Jack.

But the third and final memory was by far the best and the most revealing. Over Jacks seventy-two year life span, he was notorious for staging his own birthday parties. An annual event he had been doing from a very early age...I am told since about eight. But as his 72 anniversary rolled around he bowed to the requests of his long time friends to let them honor him. We met at Rosemary Cafe on Main Street in Vanvouver, Washington on a Sunday afternoon in late October 2009. Jack had been battling kidney cancer for several months and despite his condition, his wit and humor were firmly intact. About forty of us took turns relating our connection to Jack and shared the gift of how we came to love him. The testiments spanned his entire lifetime including his oldest and drearest friend from childhood. What could have been a sad and sober afternoon reached a climax often emulated in the theatre but seldom reached. The great examples of comedy are built around a trio of moments. Stck that holds our focus and builds in waves to that moment when it erupts into extended waves of laughter. Here was Jack sitting with a party hat on his head. A cross between a dunce's hat and Merlin's magic...He was at ease with both in this instance. Someone had given him a prayer shawl perhaps to comfort him in this final performance and Jack would have none of it. He raised the shawl to place it over his hat and it wouldn't go, he raised it twice to see if it was playing to the house and then with a twinkle in his eye he broke the fourth wall and looked directly at me as he went for it the third time he brought down the house.

Jack Booch was as errascable as they come. He pulled no punches, and the thought of tempering his politically incorrect utterances was something he never considered. It was refreshing to hear the truth uttered from a sage of the thatre. Early in his life Jack Booch was the director of The Portland Civic Theatre from 1966-1969.

A graduate of Reed College Jack Booch was born in Birmingham, Alabama on November 14, 1936 and passed away in Portland, Oregon on February 11, 2010

Missing and Remembering Jack
Llewellyn J. Rhoe

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