Presentation Speech to Geoff Proehl
LMDA G. E. Lessing Award 2016
By Brian Quirt
July 9, 2016, Portland, Oregon
Geoff, you may enjoy that I wrote much of this speech beside a lake, some of it even while paddling a canoe. That seems a Canadian cliché, but it is indeed true. As I paddled and gathered my thoughts, I hoped a great blue heron would fly past and land in the little shallow bay to my left; that, I thought, would be a fitting (and convenient) natural world metaphor for you, Geoff: beautiful, precise, a gentle shade of grey-blue, somewhat slow moving – a heron’s flight is a miracle of how slowly a large animal can pass through the air, like Geoff slowly and deliberately moving through a conference, seeing all, noting where to alight and – well, you take my point.
In any case, no convenient heron.
But I do have a dramaturgical story about the man whose dramaturgical sensibility has shaped many of us in this room, and many many many beyond it. While I sat by that lake I thought of my friend, the dramaturg Ruth Little who at the Banff Centre a year or two ago while working on a new piece with Bryony Lavery about slime– called, surprise, Slime – shared with us many of her insights about biology and landscape. One that has stuck with me, and struck me deeply, was this. In the wild, if you listen, and listen carefully, every bird, indeed every animal, apparently communicates on a different frequency. In a richly diverse biosphere, when the sound spectrum is examined, you can place every creature on it with no overlap; and, with no gaps. In an unhealthy landscape, however, there will be huge holes in the sound spectrum where creatures that once filled it have disappeared or moved to more advantageous (or less disastrous) areas. Ruth’s comment has demanded that I listen to my own surroundings beside that lake differently, changing my relationship with a land I thought I knew, and now know better.
Which leads me to Geoff, as I paddled down that lake, white moon setting in blue sky, Nancy having coffee back on our deck, sun rising in the other sky to the east. And I thought of how Geoff has so elegantly and always framed his own speeches, his publications, his production dramaturgy, his remarkable book, his comments at conferences, even his notes in that wonderful artist sketchbook he carries, in terms of personal stories – rich in language, in observation, in perspectives that take us to a new place – stories from his life, his children, Morly, their sunsets, their road trips, their arguments in diners. And found artful inspirational ways to bridge his life with his life’s work as a teacher and mentor and dramaturg.
When I listened to the full spectrum of the sonic landscape that day at the lake, thanks to Ruth’s observation, and with Geoff’s friendship of over twenty years in my mind, I realized that I hear and see the dramaturgical landscape more fully, with greater awareness of what is there throughout the spectrum, and indeed where gaps are that must be addressed, in large part to Geoff and how he has helped me see more fully. And listen more carefully.
Geoff has offered me this greater perspective not through any one moment or through a specific mentorship – although often over a beer or a glass of wine – but through two decades of his thoughtful, devoted, loving, deep commitment to the field we all work within. To dramaturgy as a way of seeing, processing and understanding the world we pass through; to storytelling as a way to engage with the philosophy of living; and to the people of his landscape perhaps most of all. Geoff’s students are throughout this room and across the country. And here I speak specifically of those who’ve had the benefit of taking Geoff’s courses, being in his productions and programs at Puget Sound, who have been mentored – gently but deliberately – for years after they graduated by a man whose influence has been so rich for so many.
Geoff has played this role in our own organization as well, as many of you know. As President from 1998-2000, Geoff pulled together a remarkable team to renew an organization that was struggling for purpose and suffering in its management. His first conference, just down the road in Tacoma, was a healing one that didn’t start out so very well. In an inauspicious beginning to the conference, a dead body was discovered in the ocean just beneath the otherwise stunning café that hosted our first reception. Perhaps only a conference led by Geoff could have shaken off that omen and gone on to revitalize our organization and set not only its pathway for the next decade, but also its leadership. He, with those he gathered around him, identified those who would lead LMDA over that next ten years: DD Kugler, Michele Volansky, Liz Engelman, and myself, and many of the Executive members who worked with us through that period. He mentored us all, and I believe provided a foundation for each of our terms that led directly to the leadership we’ve enjoyed in recent years through Shelley Orr, Danielle Mages Amato, Vicki Stroich, Beth Blickers and now Ken Cerniglia. That is a living legacy, and a tribute to Geoff’s ability to, once again, see the full spectrum of people in the landscape and know who might serve, in what way, in the best interests of this work we all do.
Geoff since his term as President has served as a leader of LMDA’s University Caucus, as LMDA’s archivist, pulling together the core documents of the organization at Puget Sound, created an invaluable chronology of LMDA’s accomplishments over 30 years – a record that is so easily and often lost in a member-driven service organization such as ours – and most recently as a founding member of the Bly Creative Capacity Grant committee and as a Board member where he continued to offer his expertise and wisdom to LMDA’s leadership.
The Lessing Award is our highest honour, offered by unanimous agreement by LMDA’s Board of Directors to individuals to recognize exceptional lifetime achievement in our field. Geoff exemplifies this as a dramaturg, scholar, mentor, volunteer and leader who has brought so much to LMDA.
I am honoured to present Geoff Proehl with the G.E. Lessing Award.