by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
I'd like to write about my mentor. I'd like to share this magnificent man with you.
His name is Henry Woolf and he launched Harold Pinter's career and played in several premieres of Pinter's plays (and several revivals, recently, in London). He was in Rocky Horror Picture Show. He was in Peter Brooks production and film of the Marat/Sade. He knows or knew everyone from Tolkien to Olivier to Glenda Jackson.
I knew none of this when I met him. I had just won a writing award and the prize included a workshop of my play and its first professional production. Henry taught at University of Alberta and the awards administrator presented him to me saying, "He's going to be your dramaturge." I was 21. Henry was heading towards 50. A great theatre friendship began.
I immediately formed my critical approach by answering, "Is it okay if I renovate?"
It started so simply. He sat beside me during the first day of the workshop and the director was proposing a change to me script. Henry leaned to me and muttered, "Never do anything you don't want to. It's your play." For the next year, through the workshop and production and after, Henry protected me by helping me grow a spine and, especially, teaching me to be brave enough to express myself. (Many in the theatre community here would not thank him for this, I know.)
When I made the decision to become a critic Henry said, "Remember: don't tear down...build." I immediately formed my critical approach by answering, "Is it okay if I renovate?"
He writes me, I him. We talk on the phone. He rarely "teaches" me now, but each exchange fills me with strength when it's flagging. (If you work in or around theatre you know this feeling.)
We all need a Henry Woolf. We all need a mentor. If you don't have one get one or, better, be one. Theatre has to look to the young, yes, but it is also a process of sharing the past (if only so that it can be rejected); it is a conversation of the wise with the naïve - the wise give it weight, the naïve spirit and energy.
Most important, is knowing—as you struggle on—that one person knows. One person cares and that he or she will be on the other end of the phone to laugh or rumble out, "You don't have to do that."