When my father died I grew very tired of people telling me “he lived in me” so I “didn’t have to miss him.” Yesterday, the greatest High School Music teacher of all time, died. He was the greatest because he provided that ever fragile tipping point moment in so many of our lives. He gave us geeks and dweebs and dorks and nerds safe haven to express, and risk, and feel included for doing so. He never said no to anyone, if you were brave enough to show up, there was a place for you in the show.
His stages were sometimes so crowded, the choreography wasn’t much more than having the performers move their eyes in unison. His gravelly voice gave way to what became trademark quips like, “We do shows with two
intermissions so we can sell more orange drink!” or “Point of a gun,
middle of the night; what’s music?!” or, the saying that everyone imitated and started every
show…”It’s MAGIC time!” And it was. Magic.
I had never set foot in his classroom but I knew who he was and on the very day I was cut from the basketball team, I walked down the hall to tell my sister and she walked me into the play auditions saying, “Do the play with me, it’ll be fun.” I stood at the piano, scared, and sang, sorta, and finished and waited. This, although I didn’t know it at the time, was my tipping point. He leaned forward and boomed ” Where have you been!?” It was the only time I’d ever been so warmly welcomed into
something special. Had it been anything other than welcoming, I wouldn’t have stayed and it’s doubtful I would have ever discovered acting. He tipped me into a place to belong in High School, which became a life direction and ultimately a career.
A few years ago I dropped by Summer stock to see Mr. Kloos and he hugged me and his hands shook and his speech was slurred and he complained that he simply couldn’t speak and move well enough to direct the shows any more beacuse of “this damnned disease,” but his spirit was the same and he played the piano and oversaw the crowded room of young performers. He took the stage and introduced me and showered me with compliments about my career and said “…and I’m so proud of him, he’s done so well and… I taught him everything he knows!” This wasn’t a moment of tear jerking recognition for me because I already knew he was proud of me. We all did. He let us know we were all his favorites. He loved us and he loved the shows and he loved the music and we loved being there with him.
I’m not proud of the fact that I didn’t see him more. I always planned on the day I’d stop the curtain call of my Broadway show to acknowledge him but I never could, or I’d swoop in and pay for everything that needed anything in his world because I was so darn wealthy from my acting career, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to do the big demonstrative thank you but I am able to honor his work by having his spirit live on in me. I teach every day and I start my classes each semester by saying, “If you are brave enough to come to this class and want to be an actor,
I’m going to help you.” It’s my way of saying, “Where have you been?”
From a very sad, grateful, blessed Mark Flanagan; Thank you Mr. Kloos, you were a Titan when this scared kid needed a Titan. You taught me everything I know.