Or How Sami Faced Her Mortality and Lost.
Marcus has cancer.
The news (given by The Bruce by way of a friend) hit me hard in the chest. I had difficulty catching my breath and it took more than a few moments before I could gather up the air to ask “what, where, how bad?”
There are certain people that you don’t deal with on a daily basis that are always floating somewhere in the back of your consciousness. You may not speak to them constantly but they are always easily accessible in your thoughts. For me in recent years, Marcus Walker has been one of those people. This has been especially true the past year.
Marcus has always reminded me of my pseudo-dad in a variety of ways: his dedication to theatre, his knowledge and passion and even his penchant for bad puns and stressing out of the small details. I liked him the first time I met him for those reasons (even though in typical Sami fashion I was completely intimidated by him).
This past year, Marcus cast me as Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. He did so knowing that I did not “fit” into the image that most people have about Ma Joad. I will never forget him for that. There is no way to thank him enough for the domino effect that one little expression of confidence created. That role opened up a whole new world for me. It showed the world (and me) that I was capable of more than just being the “cute” one or a chorus girl. I have gained an entire level of confidence in my abilities that I would never have thought possible because he saw something in me - saw a depth and technical skill of which I had previously been unaware.
And now he is ill.
There is something indescribable about seeing one of your gods stricken. It is akin to that feeling when you were a kid and you discover your parents were human and imperfect. An innocence dies.
A few days ago, there was a fundraiser for Lakewood Playhouse/Roast of Marcus. Seeing him look frail and thin on the stage took my breath away with the same ferocity that the news of his illness caused. The Bruce, sensing this, reached out and grabbed my hand as if to steady me but I was seated. The moment was fleeting though because the light and joy that radiated from Marcus eased my initial reaction quickly.
One by one, people spoke about Marcus’s work and about how he touched their lives with his passion and generosity and talent. Marcus sat and looked pleased and embarrassed at the same time, like a person who overhears a compliment that was not intended for their ears. The evening was filled with tears of sadness mixed with roars of laughter.
On the ride home, all I could think about was what my legacy would be. I believe each person wants to somehow impact their world but when you are an actor, you have to wonder just how important or profound that impact would be. Being talented and hardworking is all well and good but in the grand scheme of the world, how truly important is how well we say a certain line or wear a costume?
Not too much, I am afraid.
Most actors are blissfully unaware of those who came before us (unless there happens to be a Broadway Theatre named after them). Unless there is a film of a performance, all that work disappears into the memories of whatever audience witnessed it.
In order to truly have a lasting impact, we have to accomplish things that are greater than just acting or directing. We have to touch people. We have to make a difference. We have to aspire to grander goals than just standing ovations and bio fillers.
And in that respect, I currently find myself to be lacking.
I need to do something about that and quick. I want to be remembered. I want to make a difference in people’s lives. Even if it sounds weird and selfish and morbid, I want the news of my humanness to take someone’s breath away.
I want to be like Marcus. Is that too much to ask?