Today was the New York memorial for my mentor, George DiCenzo. I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of his master class. For those of you in other cities and other countries who couldn’t be there today, I wanted to share my remarks.
“That was great – good work! You got there. But you’ve got to do it the first time, baby! Otherwise, we’re losing the light, the crew is moving on to the next setup and you end up on the cutting room floor.” I’d never heard an acting teacher say something like that before. But then I’d never had an acting teacher before who was there in the trenches with us. I was proud to have a teacher who would periodically miss class because he was shooting a guest star role on an episodic or off in Rome shooting a film with Mike Figgis. George certainly put the lie to the adage “Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach.” George was brilliant at both.
I had taken a break from acting to work as a literary agent but I missed acting too much and knew I had to come back but I wasn’t excited about the re-entry. I felt rusty and knew I needed to be back in class but I didn’t know who to study with. And then I saw an ad that Jane Stojak had placed online that quoted Burt Reynolds from Inside the Actors Studio saying, “George DiCenzo is the best acting coach in the country.” I thought, “that sounds like a good place to start!”
When I came to class that first night at the Greenwich Street Theatre in January 2002, I was feeling excited but discouraged at the same time because I thought, “There are no good roles for middle-aged women. What am I doing?” I just knew that I had to do it – for my soul. After a couple of hours of watching George at work, by the time the break came, I had thought of five different roles I was excited about working on – not because they were done in class or even mentioned but because of the synergy of creativity that was crackling in that room. It was electric and palpable and contagious. I went up to George afterwards and thanked him for a wonderful evening and I said “I feel like I’ve come home.” He responded, “and you have.” And for the last nine years, George’s master class has been home for me and so many of my classmates.
That awareness of home became achingly clear after George’s car accident a few years ago. I remember that first Monday after the accident, Judy DelGiudice organized a meeting at Kettle, the bar we always hung out at after class and said “We’ve got to stick together. You guys are my family.” That’s how we all felt. We decided we had to keep the class going until George was well and back with us. So we rented a studio every week for months and worked on scenes and monologues and critiqued each other so that we’d have some good work to show George when he came back. Family.
I brought my young friend, Anne Cloud to class right after she graduated from college and one night during a break she said, “People get up there and do such great work and then George makes them better! I can’t wait for him to make me better!” And he did. He made us all better. So many of the roles I’ve gotten have been a direct result of specific things I learned in class.
George sent me little encouraging email notes occasionally, like “. . .Do something truly scary next time you work…………. and TELL NO ONE about it prior to your performance. Love, George.” In my own unique narcissistic way, I thought I was the only one getting these little notes and then after he died I heard other people say that they were going to miss their little notes from George. Oddly enough, learning that I wasn’t the only one, didn’t make me feel any less special.
Amorika Amoroso came up with a brilliant idea. She thought we should put together a book of lessons we’ve learned from him and quotes of his wisdom and call it “The Book of George.” Like a book in the bible. I’d like to share a few quotes of the material I’ve received so far.
The first is from Jonathan Espolin who was in George’s class for several years and has now moved back to Norway. He wanted very much to be here today. He wrote: “[There’s] one thing that George told me in class that I will never forget. Years ago, I did what I thought was my best monologue performance EVER, from The Exonerated. Right at the most emotional point of the monologue, I even managed to cry. It was fucking great!!! You should of seen it! When I was finished, as I was wiping my real tears, George said to me; “It looked planned Mr. Espolin! Never plan anything! Never plan an emotion!” Which was exactly what I had done. He was absolutely right. So today when I act, I never plan anything! Thank you George. One of the most important lessons I learned from you. One of many, many, many.
And from Katie Hyde Lewars who first studied with George in Philadelphia when she was 16 and then later in New York: “He taught me so much about choice and truth and moment-to-moment. I’ve had many teachers in my journey so far. Some taught me a few tricks. Many have been hacks. And only two have been so crucial to me that I can honestly call them mentors. George will forever be my first. My first mentor, my first real teacher. And the wonderful thing about a great teacher is that they are never truly gone. George will forever be sitting on my shoulder, saying in his famously raspy growl, “Do the work.” Thank you George. I will miss you.
Tonya Cornelisse wrote: “First thing that comes to mind for me is: ‘YOU ARE ENOUGH. The End. They don’t want to see you trying to be another human…they want to see humanity….your humanity….it’s all you have, it’s universal and everyone will feel alive if you share it. What makes me wanna watch you is you…no matter what the circumstances are or who your speaking to…search for the truth, the honesty and humanity.”
Rosina Fernhoff remembers these words from George: “Just be. Forget about the money, the jobs and all the rest. Come to class, here is where you grow. You have support, appreciation, and the freedom to create, to live on stage. He made me unafraid. What is there to lose? And you know, that courage and freedom spilled over to life! He truly changed my life! He saved it!”
And from Amorika Amorosa: “Here is what I always carry with me: ‘Leave the orchestra outside baby. You are enough.’ Also, when I’m in an audition situation and I find myself [being] nervous and going into my old bag of tricks, I always hear George’s voice: ‘Get out of your own way. get out of your head…just tell the fucking truth and mean it.’”
Judy Del Giudice wrote about her first class with George and how intimidated and nervous she felt. She says, “I get up, do my monologue then wait. Naturally I thought I’d knocked it out of the park but George turned to the class and said that I’d be the teacher now. I had no idea what he meant but over time I understood so very much the import of those words. We started to rework the piece and it is the first time I heard those magic words: you are enough. Leave the orchestra outside. He then got up and told me to do the monologue to him, as if he were the other character in the scene and, oh yeah, if I started to push or he didn’t believe what I was doing he was going to get up and walk out. To this day I’m not sure if he meant he’d walk out on me or out on class entirely. He was capable of either. I started again and somehow having George there, in the scene, actively listening and ever generous, made all the difference in the world. Something changed right then and there and I stayed with him for 10 years, learning, growing, crying, laughing and always knowing that I’d found a mentor and very special friend.”
And I’ll close with these words from Kate Hodge: “George DiCenzo was so much more than a masterful teacher. He was a devoted friend. Always encouraging, always there for us. He was tough, thorough, and he was goddamn funny as hell. He mined each of us for our inner gold and kept at us until we too could believe in ourselves. It is for him, that I will never ever give up. Because he never did. I will miss him incredibly, but I will never ever forget him. And there will never be another George DiCenzo.”