On Saturday, June 9, alumni, current students, and parents of the Reading Memorial High School Drama Club put on a surprise theatrical tribute to Bill Endslow, who retired at the end of this year as Director of the Drama Club, Chairperson of the Art and Drama Department, and longtime art and drama teacher in the Reading public school system.
The audience and performers traveled from around the country to send off Mr. Endslow with musical numbers from the nearly 20 years of productions at RMHS and memories told from members of almost every class he taught.
It was a magical night that showed off the loyalty, talent and sheer size of the community developed over the course of his career. But, rather than gush on about the great time I had, I'll take a lesson from my drama teacher and show, not tell, you what he meant to me through a story.
During my junior year at RMHS, way back in the previous century, Mr. Endslow chose DOGG'S HAMLET by Tom Stoppard as our entry in the Massachusetts State Drama Festival. Having performed in our past two Drama Fest productions and having a blast doing it, the activity had become a focal point of my school year, and I couldn't wait to hit the stage again. There was a catch, though, Mr. Endslow only cast two male actors. And I wasn't one of them.
It was the first time I auditioned for a play and didn't get a part. I was crestfallen. Mr. Endslow, having directed me several times already, had always sung my praises. Why would he betray me and choose a play with only two male parts!?!?!
Just when I thought all was lost and I was in for a long and lonely winter, Mr. Endslow asked if I wanted to lead the Run Crew. Moving sets around dressed in black? That's what I was to do for three months? Choosing to participate and spend time with my friends rather than miss out altogether, with a show of enthusiasm (but intense disappointment inside), I accepted the job.
It turned out to be one of the most gratifying, formative experiences I had in high school. Mr. Endslow pretty much left me alone to lead a team of around 15 high schoolers in constructing a massive set in a high pressure situation in under five minutes. It was a tremendous leadership experience that made me want to direct, a choice that shaped my college and professional life, opening doors I never would've have imagined existed.
Oh, and by the way, that production was the first and only RMHS entry to win the Massachusetts State Drama Festival.
This is not a story about the time when I realized I wouldn't be a professional actor. That's a different story entirely. This is a story about Bill Endslow teaching me important life lessons:
- When someone makes a choice that doesn't go your way, it's not necessarily about you. Not everything that affects you is a personal indictment, and it doesn't mean that the person in charge has lost faith in you. (The following spring Mr. Endslow and I did a couple of duets in a USO Revue. He wouldn't have performed with me if he thought I was entirely no good.)
- Ownership is a powerful motivator. I had even been on a Run Crew before, but Mr. Endslow said, "It's yours. I believe in you. Figure it out." And I did.
- No matter what you're doing, do it well. You never know what great things can come of it.
The best part of celebrating Mr. Endslow's career a few weeks ago was discovering that I am one of many, many people who have enjoyed his loyalty, inclusiveness, and trust over the years and have learned profound, life-shaping lessons from him. My story is just one of hundreds and anyone who was there that night knows they get much more remarkable from there.
So, to Mr. Endslow, we bid adieu and we thank you.