Anne Hamilton/Hamilton Dramaturgy

Losing My Touchstone/ Remembering Romulus Linney

I lost a great friend and mentor this week.

Romulus Linney, the playwright and novelist, died on January 15th in New York of lung cancer.

In a twist of fate, Rom’s daughter, the actress Laura Linney, won a Golden Globe the day after her father’s death, for her starring role in THE BIG C, a story about a woman with cancer.

Rom was my professor at Columbia University School of the Arts, and then my colleague at the New School’s Actors Studio Drama School. He led the playwrighting programs at both universities.

I learned from him first as a student, and then as a colleague.

My main tie to Rom, however, is that he taught me everything I know about being a dramaturg, a profession which I have practiced for the last twenty years.

He was what I would call rabidly protective of the playwright and his or her plays. I first met him when I was a Columbia student learning dramaturgy – developing new scripts and giving artistic support to a play when it was going up on stage.

I worked on many scripts while I was at Columbia, and have helped develop countless more since I opened my dramaturgy practice.

Rom taught me about how important words are: the word on the page, the words we say to one another, and most of all, how crucial it is to use words in a way that is appropriate to the situation at hand. What Rom said was what he meant. There was no subterfuge. What you saw was what you got. He was a very clear man in his words and actions.

I feel extremely sad to have lost him. Yet when I think about what he would say to me today, I think it would be, “What are you crying about? Go on with your own life.”

Unlike many great teachers, Rom knew the distinction between his life and my life. He never tried to use my talents or rope me in for his own glory. He moved full steam ahead in his own life and expected me to do the same. No hanging on, no whining, and most of all, No Excuses.

Having lost another mentor and friend, Gerald Schoenfeld, three years ago, I feel the burden of moving up in the ranks of experienced theatre professionals. I am losing my mentors. And now I’m getting to the place where I am It. I am the expert. I am the one of whom people ask questions. I am the one who is helping others achieve their glory. I am the one doing the work and showing the way.

I know that I have been actively doing all these things for the last twenty years, but I always had Rom and Gerry as my touchstones. I would ask their advice on certain sticky matters, and when faced with an ethical dilemma or issue of integrity.

They always gave me good advice. Now they’re gone.

I have realized a very important lesson. While I respect my elders, I cannot be my elders. I have my own identity and life path.

Everyone seeks to please the ones who taught them. But a good teacher expects that the student have her own identity. A good teacher doesn’t seek to merge with the student, or live on in them. A good teacher has so much activity and growth going on that he doesn’t think about replicating himself. He teaches by example.

That’s what Rom did for me. He didn’t expect a cookie cutter career out of me. He expected me to use my own mind and live my own life, just like he did. Rom was not intrusive. And he expected me to keep out of his business as well.

That makes it a little more OK that he’s not physically here in the body anymore.

His spirit lives on. And I spent enough years working with him that I can almost instantly call up what he would answer to any of my questions.

“What do I do now?” – “Go on with your own life.”

“What will I do without you?” – “Hey, stand on your own two feet.”

“I miss you.” – “We all lose people, Anne.”

It’s pretty simple. Rom was a simple, yet intelligently elegant man. He lived in the moment, wrote out all the stories he felt inside, and faced every day with strength and enthusiasm.

He knew what he wanted and he went after it, moment by moment.

That’s a pretty simple and lasting lesson.

So I think I will be OK. More than OK.  I’ll be all right. I’ll do what’s right for me. No more, no less. That makes sense to me. It helps me deal with the pain of losing my beloved touchstone.

This article will be posted on the Open to Hope Foundation‘s website on January 29, 2011. Open to Hope is an online community helping people to find hope after losss. It has published several of my articles on Healing Through the Arts.

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