Five Things I Learned from Gerald Morrissey [OPINION]
NEW BEDFORD — I am just one of the countless people that have passed through Greater New Bedford Regional Voc-Tech Theatre Company since 2000 when Gerald and Marianne Morrissey first arrived at the school. They were told it would never succeed, with administrators saying that neither students nor faculty had an appetite for dramatic arts.
Eighteen years and some 30 or so productions later, it's safe to say that the prognosticators were wrong.
Throughout the numerous productions of vibrant musicals and dramatic pieces, both light-hearted and dark-mattered, Morrissey took the time to instill in all participants of the VTTC invaluable life lessons. I still carry those lessons today, nearly eleven years since my last starring role on the VTTC stage.
5. Carry a song in your heart
Anyone who ever spent an extended period of time with Mr. Morrissey knew that he was a musical man. Any off-handed utterance by a performer during rehearsal could launch him into a verse of one of those "songs from way back when." For instance, if an actor simply apologized for a misstep, Morrissey would more than likely begin to softly croon "I'm Sorry" by Brenda Lee (incidentally, his most favorite musical artist was Patsy Cline). He was never self-conscious about his singing, and had a vibrato that put Pavarotti to shame.
As serious as he was about his job and our performance, Gerry always took small moments to "break character" and enjoy the small joys in life.
4. Always be confident
When I came to GNBVT, I was the smallest, shyest, squeakiest-voiced freshman you had ever seen. But I joined the Theatre Company anyway because I just wanted to act and have fun, even though I didn't measure up, literally, to most other cast members.
Gerald had a God-given ability to see hidden talents and abilities and knew how to coax them out of every actor. Somehow he saw those things in me and so many other "little freshmen" and cultivated us into fearless, chance-taking individuals. He believed in us, which forced us to believe in ourselves, if not for our benefit, then for his.
3. Focus on what matters
When you're on stage, your performance is the only thing that matters. That's what Gerry would impart to every cast. "No matter what happens out there," he said, pointing to the audience, "you keep delivering your lines." Surely, there must be some scenario that would warrant stopping a show, right? Not according to Mr. Morrissey. "I don't care if a 747 crashes and takes out half the theater! You keep going."
And believe me, there were distractions during performances. On stage, backstage, and in the audience. But whenever something out of the ordinary occurred, those words came back to us. "You keep going." And we did.
I think my ability today to ignore the little annoyances and needling, especially in media, is largely due to Morrissey's instruction to focus on my own performance and delivering it to the best of my ability.
2. It's OK to take a step back
Joining a VTTC production was a commitment. If you had a lead role or were in a smaller production, you had rehearsal at least three days a week for more than three hours at a time.
I was still a squeaky-voiced freshman when I was cast in Godspell. I was the only freshman cast in that show, as a matter of fact. And boy, did I feel out of place. I was intimidated by my older, much cooler castmates. I was perplexed by the show (and still am).
Gerry recognized my angst and separation from the rest of the cast and took me aside one day and asked if I thought I was meshing with the cast and the character I was supposed to be portraying. The timid freshman began to sob as I told him I was not very comfortable.
He told me it was alright if I stepped aside, and told me to come back next season. From that, I learned to recognize and know your place. Not every project needs you, and you don't need every project. I'm sure Godspell was much better off without my uncertainty.
1. Take your bow
To this day, I still don't like recognition or being in the spotlight. That may sound strange for a guy who's on the radio every day and spent four years on a high school stage. But I think it's true for many of us performers. We enjoy the art, but not the attention.
But Gerry knew that the applause at the curtain of a performance was our big payoff. We never got trophies to take home like the sports teams. We were never given ribbons or titles like some of the other organizations within the school. Our tireless hours of rehearsal and line memorization culminated to four curtain calls.
Gerry's son, Matt, once asked me, "Do you think Gerald milks his curtain calls?" I immediately replied, "Yes." His curtain calls were meticulously choreographed and staged. They most often featured a short speech from the lead character. And, in most musicals, featured a reprise of one of the show's more catchy tunes. They were performances within performances.
But he displayed us that way because he was proud of us. And he wanted us to be proud of ourselves. If we had put in the work and put on a quality performance, we most certainly deserved the accolades that came along with it.
It's more than safe to say that the local theatrical community would not be the same had Gerald Morrissey listened to the naysayers back in 2000. Many graduates of the VTTC have joined community theater, started their own companies, or have actually gone out to New York and Los Angeles to achieve what Mr. Morrissey knew they had in them all along.
So long, Mr. Morrissey. And thank you for all of the laughs and the lessons. Theatre in New Bedford will not be the same without you.
Please join us as some of the VTTC Alumni pay tribute to Gerry Morrissey on January 11 with a very special one-night performance of VTTC: Revisited as we raise funds to keep Mr. Morrissey's dream alive.
Hee diddly dee, an actor's life for me!