Thursday, April 1, 2021

Birthday bravo: Honoring Bruce Meyers' well lived life in the theater

Bruce Kemp Meyers celebrated life and shared his acting talents, despite chronic heart problems. 
 

Bruce Meyers played Daddy Warbucks in "Annie." The title role was
played by Becca Barthelmess and Lana Fox Gribas played Grace.
Warbucks and Grace marry and adopt all the orphans. Our Airedale
Gandalf played Sandy the dog, also adopted by the new family.

OVATION: A birthday salute for Bruce Kemp Meyers and his lively life in the theater

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS

Photos from CM Archives, scanned and digitized by Bruce Keller

"A LIFE in the Theatre" is a wonderful David
Mamet play about two actors -- one young and on the rise, the other in his sunset days upon the stage.

It is also a fitting moniker for the life of Bruce Kemp Meyers, who would have turned 78 on April 1.  We had  fun with his "April Fools Day" anniversary.  We had fun in general. We knew our time might be limited.

Bruce Meyers played Curly in a high school
production of "Oklahoma" in his native Ohio.
WHEN BRUCE was called for his Army physical in Cleveland, during the Vietnam War, he was already a leading man. He'd played several leading roles, including Curly in a Shaw High School production of "Oklahoma,"
and was performing in a string of musicals at Kent State University in Ohio. He was surprised but not unhappy to fail the physical. "The doctor listened to my heart, paused, stared at me, put the stethoscope back on my test, listened again and said, 'You have a serious murmur, but it may save your life'."

Christene and Bruce Meyers, in a scene from
"Showstoppers" at der Schwartzwald  Theater. 
That was in 1965. The malady was diagnosed as aortic valve stenosis -- simply, the aortic valve has narrowed, reducing blood flow, a condition that can be fatal. Doctors advised keeping an eye on it, which he did during graduate school and on to Montana in 1967 for a teaching post in the English department at then Eastern Montana College, now MSU-Billings.

Bruce Meyers, Karen Jackson, Lysa Fox in
"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" at BST.
WE DIDN'T DWELL on the problem until he felt increasing weakness. So early in 1976, doctors John Heizer and Hewes Agnew replaced the valve at then Deaconess Hospital in Billings. A few weeks later, he was cast in the lead of Tommy Allbright, in "Brigadoon" at Billings Studio Theatre. Hewes and Susan Agnew sang in the chorus.
For us, the best of times were on the boards -- usually I playing piano and music directing and Bruce in a major or leading role.  During a prolific period beginning in the 1970s into the early 1990s -- from "Brigadoon" and right up to his death while rehearsing "The Apple Tree," -- ours was a wonderful life in the theatre. We logged nearly 50 collaborations at BST, the Fox Theater, MSU-Billings, Gramma's Drammas and Der Schwartzwald Dinner Theater.
BRUCE WOULD, I'm sure, be happy that I have continued my creative life -- conducting and playing piano, traveling, teaching writing workshops and seeing dozens of plays a year.
I believe he would like Bruce Keller and get a charge out of his moniker, "Bruce the Second." He and William Jones, "husband number two," were friends; the four of us -- Bill and his wife Debbie and Bruce and I -- traveled a few times together before we both found ourselves single.

I've written about the strange co-incidence of the names of my three partners:  Bruce Meyers, William Jones, Bruce William Keller, and of the huge role theater plays in my life.

 Bruce, William, Keller coincidence

A wonderful life on the boards 

Bruce Meyers, center, with three of the Kit Kat Girls
in a 1977 production of "Cabaret" at BST. Above left
small photo: Bruce and Christene in "Our Town,"
a "Save the Fox" fundraiser, 1979, at the Fox, now ABT. 

I THINK fondly of those hectic, fulfilling days.  Often we'd be rehearsing one show, reading scripts for another and performing a third. I'd come home from a full day at The Billings Gazette, where I was film reviewer and arts editor, and Bruce would be upstairs grading papers after teaching at MSU-Billings.  We'd grab something light to eat -- no alcohol until after the show or rehearsal. Then we'd head for the boards.
DURING 17 performances of "Cabaret" at BST in 1977, it was so cold that the lines the emcee utters in "Wilkommen" rang true: "Outside it is winter, but in here, it it so hot! Every night we have to battle with the girls to keep them from taking off all their clothes. Who knows? Tonight we may lose the battle."
Vint Lavinder and Bruce Meyers in "Man 
of La Mancha" at der Schwartzwald.
BRUCE WAS a trooper.  For him, the old theater adage, "the show must go on" was a solemn oath. He was a professional: learned his lines, supported other actors, was early for rehearsal, never missed a show. Even when he was in recovery from his open-heart surgery, or in pain from hematomas and bruising, he was dependable. His damaged heart was huge.
During rehearsals for "Good," Bruce's mother Dorothy was dying. It was one of Bruce's favorite roles, in a complex play about the conflicted feelings of a brilliant professor in Nazi Germany. He'd fly on weekends to his native Cleveland, Ohio, and had just returned the day she passed away. That night in Petro Hall at MSU-B, our director, friend and colleague Victoria Coffman, offered to cancel the show.  Bruce declined, but asked that the performance be dedicated to his mother. Vicky granted the wish and announced it to the audience.  It was a flawless performance with a standing ovation. 
LYA FOX, now teaching at Western Illinois University, as head of the BFA musical theater program, is one of many Bruce influenced. "He taught me so much. He had a beautiful, quiet confidence -- a dear, wonderful artist."
 At MSU-B, where he taught creative writing and English for 25 years, a scholarship honors Bruce's memory, helping English majors achieve their degrees. Contributions are welcome and still coming in these many years later. Happy birthday, Bruce Meyers, in that great theater in the sky. Break a leg!

 More info: https://msubfoundation.com/programs/scholarships/

https://www.collegexpress.com/scholarships/bruce-meyers-memorial-english-endowed-scholarship/2007501/
 

"Sweeney Todd" at Oregon Cabaret Theatre was a sell-out, before the pandemic, beautifully
acted and directed. Below right, the warm and welcoming space is a dinner theater cabaret setting. 

UP NEXT:
 For years, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre has been entertaining
sell-out crowds in a beautifully restored church in Ashland, Oregon. Back in business after a brutal pandemic year, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre is up and running with an exciting season.  Across from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Cabaret is part of our annual trek to Ashland, and a worthy complement to the OSF and its three distinctly different theaters. We'll preview the new season, now underway. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each week for  a fresh look at the arts, travel, nature, family and more. Please share the links: whereiscookie.com
 


3 comments:

  1. Delighted to see this tribute. Both my sons and two nieces studied under Bruce. We never missed your shows. Great memories.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Cody Theater LoversApril 2, 2021 at 6:36 PM

    Have been to many of your productions....wish I had seen every one.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excellent tribute. I was thinking of the dedication of the garden today, and all the talent on that outdoor "stage" you cleverly designed at the campus where he taught in Billings.

    ReplyDelete