I came home to find an email in my inbox tonight announcing that Priscilla Allen had died. Most of you won't recognize her name (but once explained, might recognize her face). Priscilla was an important and beloved actor in the San Diego theater community. It didn't matter which of the major theaters you subscribed to, you would eventually see Priscilla onstage, and when you saw Priscilla, you never forgot her.
But Priscilla (or Ms. Allen as I knew her) was also a teacher. In fact, when I left elementary school and headed to the San Diego School of Performing Arts back in 1993, it was Ms Allen who, for some reason, let little seventh grade me into her Technical Theater class, which was suppposed to be for sophemores and up. It seems funny when I think about it, that my main school experience with Priscilla was a tech theater class, since neither she (nor I) are known for our set designs or lighting plots. But the chance to be in that class, with people who seemed 20 years older than me (but were actually only 4 grades apart), reading plays by Athol Fugard and having assignments that let my imagination run wild in tangible ways, rooted me in a sense of my own creative expression that I think few people get to give voice to by the age of thirteen. Many of the ideas generated in that class became foundational for how I think about storytelling, symbolism, metaphor and the social contexts of art.
But more than all those big words, I believe that Ms Allen letting little Kj into that class, gave Then, Now and Future Kj the freedom (and propensity) to follow my own inclinations and intuitions regarding my education and passions. I never do things in the right order, and my interdisciplinary DNA always leads me to the strangest combination of things, that when left to a standard course rotation, might never emerge. Meaning? Ms. Allen bent the rules for me, and I've been bending them for myself ever since. I'm grateful for mark she put on me and how i think about learning and art. I was honored to learn from her, and always felt giddy with pride when seeing her perform locally. (She might be the first actor I ever waited by a green room door to greet after a show- a very big deal at the time).
Priscilla passed away with her family with her, and she leaves behind a community of friends, co-workers, artists, students and audiences that loved her bawdy, sonorous, witty and passionate presence in our lives. Since to the rest of the world, Priscilla Allen is known as the "Fat Lady" in Total Recall who is actually Arnold Schwarzenegger in disguise. I don't know if her name will pop up in any random blogs as sometimes happens when "That Guy From..." or "The Lady Who..." passes away, but as much fun as she had with her odd and memorable stand outs both in film and onstage, I'm glad that she always had audiences to play for, scenery to chew, and a community that truly valued her.
Thanks Ms. Allen