It’s been a week and a half and I feel guilty for not writing anything, but so much other stuff has been written – really great, great stuff – that I didn’t feel the need to add my small voice to the cacophony. I was glad to be there for my friends, is all.
Sheldon Patinkin was the chairman of the theatre department at Columbia College while I was a student there. He directed me two in plays, Twelfth Night and Macbeth. I never had him as a teacher, but at the same time he was a teacher to everyone there. He saw and gave notes on every single project that went up at the school, as well as every class that had a performance portion of the final exam. His feedback was always concise. “That thing you’re doing with your arms?” he would say. “Don’t.”
When some friends and I wanted to form a theatre company of our own he invited us all to his home to give us advice. I remember saying as I entered that I could fit my entire apartment in his living room. He replied, “And isn’t that how it should be?”
Long before I met Sheldon I knew about him. My friend Shane had left our hometown two years before me to attend Columbia. When I arrived in town and met all of Shane’s friends, I found that nobody every quoted Sheldon Patinkin without doing an impression of him. I had a very clear idea of what to expect months before I ever met him in person.
In the years after Mandy and I finished at Columbia, we stayed in touch with Sheldon, meeting him regularly for breakfast at his favorite diner – The Bagel, on Broadway. Sheldon met tons of people regularly for breakfast or lunch or coffee. I think he just loved people. It didn’t matter, though. When you were with Sheldon, he was always there with you.We knew we were not unique in this, but we still felt special. He’d tell us stories of the early days of Second City, or gripe about the politics of Columbia College’s administration, or gossip about the current goings on at Second City. He always liked getting the inside scoop from Mandy.
In a post on Facebook I said it was a privilege to be among so many friends, family, colleagues and students present at Sheldon’s funeral. I cannot adequately emphasize the phrase “so many.” We were in a room with 300 chairs, all occupied, plus standing room only ringing the walls, and a packed lobby with a video screen for the few hundred more that didn’t make it into the main room.
Too many other people have said it far more eloquently than I will, but it cannot be stated enough: Theatre in Chicago is what it is today because of Sheldon Patinkin. We shall not see his like again.
Losing Sheldon was a cap to a brutal month for our community, one I hope we never have to repeat. But if there is a bright spot, it’s in the knowledge that we are a community. We are a family, and this difficult time has brought us all closer together.