Applause After Death

We just returned from a wonderful weekend in Winona where we saw the opening performances of the 14th season of the Great River Shakespeare Festival.  (Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors and Richard III, as well as An Iliad, a modern day retelling of the classic.  All fabulous productions.)

The GRSF folks are dedicating this season to the memory of a woman named Karen Fawcett, who played a vital role in “building a fledgling theater company into a sustainable fixture in the regional and national arts scene.”  She co-founded their volunteer organization, raised money, was involved in strategic planning, and was instrumental in building an audience outside of Winona.  She died this past January.

On opening night of the first play, Comedy of Errors, the artistic director of the GRSF talked about Fawcett and the dedication of the season to her.  He said that when someone in the theater passes away, there is a tradition of offering the person a final applause.  When he asked the audience (many of whom have been attending GRSF performances for years) to join him in a final applause for Fawcett, everyone rose and applauded long and hard.

In the moment, I was deeply touched by the gesture, and joined heartily with the other audience members.  As I sat later, I asked myself for whose benefit was the applause?  Certainly not Fawcett, much as we like to picture our dearly departed smiling down on us.

It struck me that the answer was us.  Not in a bad selfish way.  Rather, the applause was an expression of collective gratitude (and any expression of gratitude is a good thing).  It was a recognition that what had been built was worth having and worth preserving, and that it is important for us to acknowledge those who had a hand in it, whether they can hear us or not.  And, as or more importantly, the applause recognized something Fawcett embodied: the idea, in the words of the director, “that anything is possible with the right work and the right people.”  And that is something that should motivate each of us.

And, Karen Fawcett, if you are smiling on us, I hope you enjoyed the weekend performances as much as we did.  Rest in peace!


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