Self-portrait of Terry Teachout in black with window in background.

Terry Teachout and 2005

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This is my old friend, Terry. He passed away in January of last year.

Terry Teachout (February 6, 1956 – January 13, 2022)

I’m in a mood.

That’s because, for the last day I’ve been thinking about Terry, and missing him. Knowing the date of the one-year anniversary of his death was coming up, I started watching a lecture by him on YouTube last night. He gave the one-hour-long-lecture, “Confessions of a Critic“, at the Institute for Advanced Study. I clicked on the link because I wanted to see him and hear his voice.1

Like I said:

I’m in a mood.

Not that I get in moods that often. And I have to say that I like the way he died: he died in his sleep, apparently.

So, there was no long pain, no feelings of regret, and the tears for us around that know this person’s going through sh*t.

You know: pain, fear, and the body breaking down. The things that John Milton knew when writing about hell in Paradise Lost.

My great aunt died that way – fast; no pain.

She and Gramma Anne came out every year when we were little. They’d play Bridge with our parents. Aunt Winnie would drink Grasshoppers and Pink Ladies (maybe both did; I can’t remember), and would take, “just a little bit more” of a piece of pie or cake after holiday meals. And she would line us all up for interminable amounts of time while she tried to get the photos with her Brownie Camera.

Well,

one night she and Gramma Anne were coming back from dinner when 90-year-old Winnie opened the door to their rent-controlled apartment in Chicago and died before crossing the threshold.

Dad said he went to her funeral in Chicago (we were in Pennsylvania) and those at the wake were really glad with the way she died. Dad told me they were like, “Way to go, Winnie!” I was maybe 17 or 18 years old.

Ok: nice story. Get to the point, Keiran:

Why am I writing about Terry now?

Because I’ve not been able to write about his death or process it before. In fact, I don’t know if I am processing it right now. Yet, the arrival of the one-year anniversary lets me write about meeting him.

I met Terry in 2005 when he came to take a tour at Taliesin. I did sometimes give “special tours” for those in media. The tours I gave were off of the schedule, and did not rely on strict timing. You could go over with a person (or persons) in your own vehicle, and shoot around the other tours. Still, I started the tour as a normal, “give-information” tour. I might as well have been doing just a public tour. But, while I drove Terry in my car on the inner roads of the Taliesin estate, something flipped in my mind.

I don’t remember the moment, but I went from “professional guide mode”, to suddenly having a deep conversation with someone.

Here’s what I wrote a day or two after that tour:

In Hillside, he grooved on the theater and dining room. I talked about the concerts given there, and how you’re so close to the musicians when they play. He thought that was cool. I told him how once I watched a bat circle over the head of a violinist while the audience tried not to gasp, and he laughed. [Here’s a hyperlink to musicians playing, but I don’t think you’ll see a bat in that footage.]

We talked about Fallingwater at one point, and I told him my idea that Fallingwater is like “the platonic idea of Organic Architecture” (just go with me on this one). “Yes!” he replied. I took him to a great view across the valley, for which he was grateful. We walked about Taliesin’s waterfall. Then we had lunch, where he told me about his New York City apartment, and the art work he owns.

Then we went, after lunch, to the House….

… He was amazed at the compositions (and, really, the pictures don’t do it justice). I’m amazed at the composition. I have never been able to articulate why it works, although the combination of lines and materials work together in perfect tension….

We stood and looked. He got teary-eyed (I love it when that happens). Here’s his blog post [at www.aboutlastnight.com]…:

At the end of the day, Keiran and I stood together on a hill overlooking Taliesin, gazing at the house and the vast, all-encompassing view beyond it…. For a moment I didn’t trust myself to speak.

“I guess you get used to everything,” I finally said, “but I don’t see how anyone could get used to seeing this every day.”

“Oh, you do,” Keiran replied. “Most of the time, anyway. Except when the wind and sun and humidity are just right. When everything is right.” She paused. “Then it’s so beautiful, it hurts.”

Great guy. Great day. Like the best I can come up with sometimes on tours, all rolled into one.

He and I remained friends after that.

Our meetings almost completely took place in Wisconsin. As the drama critic for The Wall Street Journal, he came out every (or almost every) year to review plays at the local repertory theater I posted on, the American Players Theater. Due to that, I got the extra-special privilege of getting my pick of plays every time he came out, once he told me what he was going to review.

I never asked him his thoughts on the plays (I didn’t want to distract him while he did his job). But I got to see him afterward while his thoughts on the plays percolated in his mind. Plus, I got to hear him tell me that, APT’s rendition of “A Streetcar Named Desire” was the best he’d ever seen. And I learned how he loved farces, like he said when we sat down before “A Flea In Her Ear“. And my husband and I went with Terry to “A View From the Bridge“, and got to say hi to one of its lead actors.1

And then there was the post I wrote here, on bats at Taliesin. In the post I mentioned how Terry got to stay a night at Taliesin because of an invitation from Taliesin resident, Minerva Montooth. He also wrote a post on his website, About Last Night. But he sent it me so that I could provide feedback before it went live.

I wrote in my “bat” post that –

He described how, at one point,

“A black bird came in, flew around the ceiling, then fluttered out. I never saw it again.”

I loved telling people on my tours that I replied, “Terry… that was a bat.”

fine, fine, fine. But –

what does this have to do with 2005?

Years ago, I realized that I met some really great people in that one year:

a business that: “provides design, engineering, and custom installation services for audio, video, and lighting systems. We offer technology consultations, as well as acoustical testing and evaluation. Equipment rental and event staffing are also available.”
https://poindexters.com/services/

Seriously: get them if you are setting up for an amazing audio system; they did the sound systems at a home designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s sons (Frank Lloyd Wright Jr.—a.k.a., Lloyd Wright—or John Lloyd Wright) in California.

and

  • the man who later became my husband.

All things considered…

While I originally wrote more, on the last time I saw Terry with his wife, Hilary; and spoke on her degenerative illness (that was responsible for ending her life) –

I decided that’s not fair to him, or to her, or to the woman Terry was in love with before he died, or others who knew him.

All I know is that, damn: I miss that man.3

https://www.wsj.com/articles/terry-teachout-wall-street-journal-drama-critic-dies-at-age-65-11642115600

https://www.commentary.org/john-podhoretz/terry-teachout/

 

Posted January 10, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this post was taken by Terry Teachout and is licensed under Creative Commons. The image is cropped. Here’s a link to the image on-line.


Notes:

1 And I wish I could tell him that I do not think he was right about poet Alexander Pope, but that’s just because Pope was a Catholic in England at a time that this.was.not.done; but really because I love the poem “The Rape of the Lock“.

2 Actually, saying “hi” to a lead actor at APT is not hugely unusual. Members of the core cast live in town and we all run across each other, just like normal humans. But before that night, I’d never talked to actor Brian Mani.

3 and not because I got free theater tickets.

Stage and audience before the beginning of The Rivals at The American Players Theatre

Up the Hill

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Photograph taken in the American Players Theatre on June 11, 2022, before the start of the show, The Rivals. Members of APT belong to the Actors Equity Association, so photographs are prohibited during performances.

I’m not writing this week about Frank Lloyd Wright, the Taliesin estate, or other non-Wright things I’ve delved into. I’m going to write about something close to the estate that contributes to the area around Wright’s Wisconsin home. This is the American Players Theatre.

Founded in the 1970s, “APT” is a repertory theater that operates during the warmer months. It puts on 8-9 plays each year, many of them simultaneously. 5 of these shows are “up the hill”: an outdoor, 1,089-seat amphitheater that you get to by literally walking up a hill (there are snacks once you get there, I promise).1 APT has a smaller theater near the base of the hill called the “Touchstone Theatre“. It seats 201, opened in 2009 and has 4 plays running during the season.

APT is made up of a core-acting company, as well as cast members coming from around the country each season. Its regular season starts in mid-June, and runs until the last night of the first weekend in October.

Perhaps Wright/Taliesin changed the town, or the town was changed due to so many other Wisconsinsites. However, APT is a notable factor in the town’s

current character.

In addition to many core acting members and the Stage, Production, and Operations Managers, in residence in/around town, every summer Spring Green’s population increases with more actors, directors, and everyone else involved in

Putting on a show!

Also, a yearly audience of around 100,000 people come to the shows, see the town, etc etc.

Now, I could keep going on with every stage person I could possibly think of that was/is involved. But I stopped because I realized I wasn’t writing a piece for Morning Edition. I apologize to those I left out.

And me? Well…

For a few years in the late 1990s I had a part-time job at APT (which, at that time, was only on the stage “up the hill”).2 In no way did I do anything important.

‘Coz informing people that Wright didn’t kill his second wife is important enough, man!3

No, I just worked on the House staff, 12-15 hrs a week. Getting over $300+ bucks a month was nice.4

Here’s what I did the majority of time:

  • Told people where to park in the lot before the show
  • Stood near the top of the hill and ripped the top off of tickets when theater goers got up there
  • Worked the concession stand during intermissions
  • Following the play, went through the stands with the rest of the House staff and collected trash.

Really — why did I do this?

I thought it would be cool to see the APT shows, despite not having a background in theater

(except for being surrounded by friends in college who were actors, and taking a couple of acting classes)

And, as I worked completely in tours (as a guide, a House steward, and in the bookstore), it was refreshing to be completely anonymous.

The freedom to observe different plays through an entire season:

Gave me the chance to watch my favorite scenes over and over throughout the season. And see the actors play with their line delivery from night to night.

Or just slog along while the actors dealt with the wind, rain, heat, and cold.

Well, yes, and everyone who was in the stands had to deal with this, too. But the actors and other staff had to be there.

In particular,

there was a Saturday during a summer heat wave the season that one actor played both Richard III and Cyrano de Bergerac. This one day, Lee Ernst acted in Richard III—a play lasting several hours with the battle scene at the end—in the mid-afternoon show. And this was followed by him as “Cyrano” in the 8 p.m. show. The play in which Cyrano fights with a sword in his first scene.

These engendered moments of fascination. I knew a little of what it was like to be outside giving tours through spaces lacking climate control on hot and humid days. However, I wasn’t holding a sword and wearing a costume that covered me from my neck to my ankles.

APT eventually added a sunshade over part of the stage (as in this 2011 photo through Foursquare). I was told that at these times, the stage itself could be over 100F (38C). You could only wonder at the physical brutality that the actors went through.

My one full season

To get back to my easy work: I worked at the end of APT seasons (like the season with Cyrano and Richard III), and one whole season (1998). The plays at that time were:

I remember

It rained a lot that year. A LOT.

Oh, and June of that year saw an oak tree at Taliesin’s Tea Circle oak tree crash onto Wright’s front office, next to the Taliesin studio. Which was followed 10 days later by a landslide at Taliesin.

I think all the staff got to know the lines in the plays that referenced rain.

btw: Since APT’s Hill Theatre is exterior, they have lots of ways to deal with rain and do everything they can to make sure the show goes off. In fact, APT’s weather policy has its own webpage.

At the end of that season, there was a private party of APT staff, with awards that staff members gave each other.

A note about me in the Taliesin tour program:

The APT awards inspired me to start awards for our end-of-the-season parties. I put the awards together for about 5 seasons.

Some awards: “most chronometrically challenged tour guide”, “Answers the question, ‘Is this the House on the Rock?‘ with patience and aplomb,” etc. etc.

Another note on weather in another season:

One time while working on the House crew at the end of September, I watched snow flurries during “Much Ado About Nothing“. Not what’s envisioned:

Screen capture from the 1993 movie of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"

That’s why the costumes allow actors to wear either heat or cold packs.

However,

Enough days and nights are magical that they make up for everything. There are nights at APT that are warm with the call of Whipporwills and the audience sees distant clouds discharging silent thunderbolts. Nights in which the lights come up at the end of the show and you look up and there are stars over your heads.

And, during one performance (as an audience member in 2017), a bat flew near the stage during the farce, “A Flea in Her Ear“. The actress playing the character of Olympe (a proprietor of the slightly run-down hotel, Coq d’Or), following the overhead visit by the flying little rodent, casually said, “don’t mind the bats” to her patrons while she walked out.

Lastly,

APT is the way I got introduced to my friend, Terry Teachout. He came out to Spring Green to review shows from APT and saw Taliesin, for the first time and met me. I can’t go too much into it since he died unexpectedly this past January. He just loved APT, and thinking about him gets me teary-eyed.

First published July 15, 2022.

 


Notes:

1 There are buses that drive people up the hill starting 45 minutes before showtime. We’re only hardy in Wisconsin; not sadistic, or murderous.

2 and given my post-Covid situation, $300/month sounds nice, too.

3 No: he didn’t kill his wife.
I thought we went over this.
Plus, she wasn’t his wife; she was his mistress/partner.

3 I’ve heard this at least once from staff over the years: sometimes APT receives complaints from people who have seen a show, and would like the “volume of the whippoorwill” to “be turned down.”

Granted, I have been in all-inclusive amusement parks where you don’t know what sounds or events are planned/piped in. However, in this case I can tell you: the whippoorwills at APT are real.