To Greg Chew, who passed away late last night.
This was written for a November 2013 celebration of Mr. Chew's life, and incredible work as head of the drama program at Urbana High school. Greg Chew was a gifted and generous artist. He will be missed.
You are a harbor:
Providing a space for young people who love theatre to live it. Providing a space for countless quirky, sometimes outcast, often awkward, but always creative and bright and deeply passionate kids to find their place and their people and shine.
For decades now.
For hundreds and hundreds of kids.
You are the reason they love theatre. You are the reason, sometimes, they choose to make a career in the theatre. Much to the chagrin, of many a guidance councilor.
Your acceptance, your “everybody on board” spirit keeps the Urbana High School theatre- and all the small, magical pockets it contains- as a space where student after student can radiate and be a part.
You are also a wind.
You are a patient guide. Watching rehearsal after endless rehearsal where awkward young actor after awkward young actor gains some awareness of who they are in the world because of who they are in that moment on the stage. You are there to give the same important notes:
“Come downstage for that. Say it louder. Say it to him. When you’re angry, stand on the chair there so we really know you’re angry.
But I don’t think you’re angry here. I think right here, that this is really hard for you.”
You are there to show each new head how to use the band saw, or turn on the lighting board, or which one in that enormous ring of keys might open the costume room.
You push lightly, and then, Mr. Chew, you blow way back and give these awkward, creative, newly-almost-self-aware young people all the space. To make the play themselves.
You live theatre in a way that is uncommon even among other people who have made their lives in the theatre. You read more plays than most artistic directors I know. You have more technical skills than nearly every director I have met.
And, of course, Kabuki.
You are a consummate professional.
You praise honestly, not effusively. You taught me why the former is so much more valuable than the latter in an art form where everything is subjective. True praise matters.
I was shocked, to read you quoted in the school paper once as saying,
“I do not cast Gabby in the most visible roles, but in the most challenging.”
It is one of the highest compliments I have ever received.
It is so applicable to your own lengthy career.
You focus on process, not product; on teaching, not on glory or personal gain.
That is the kind of attention that makes a career in theatre possible. That is one of the biggest gifts you have given to me and so many other students who have been lucky enough to come through Urbana High School Drama.
Thank you for being that harbor, that wind, and also the artist who is being pushed himself by a true, life-long love of making plays.
Thank you for showing us all by smart example the secret to longevity in this field of fast burning comets. You have fundamentally shaped the way I live as an artist in the theatre.
Mr. Chew, thank you so much.
Super Thespian, troupe 161
Urbana High School Class of 2001