Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23, 1967 - February 2, 2014)
In 2004, I was introduced to someone that worked for the Labyrinth Theater Company and brought me in to do some volunteer work for them. It started with doing simple things like office mailings and gradually grew into set building and helping out at some of the VIP, company events. Philip was the Artistic Director at the time. My experience with the LAB was amazing. It was was one of the highlights of my artistic career. I made some lasting friendships with fellow volunteers, Master Class Alumni, and a number of the company members.
I met Philip on a few occasions, serving food and drinks at premiere parties or their famous fundraiser- “Celebrity Charades”. However, there was one particular incident that bonded us.
I was on book for the actors during the previews of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” by Stephen Adly Guirgis , in 2005.
The show was premiering at the Public Theater in New York, where the company had its residence. There were a handful of film and theater stars in attendance. I realized that I was in the big time here. No pressure at all! My task was easy: Follow the script, and feed the actor their line when they called for it. I was given a copy of the script and a flashlight. Once the show began, it was all business. “Follow the lines and don't fuck up,” I said to myself.
The show was great. Everything was running smoothly. I was so mesmerized by the performances of Sam Rockwell, John Ortiz, Eric Bogosian, Liza Colon Zayas, Callie Thorne, Yul Vazquez, and the entire ensemble. Great freaking' cast! Philip was watching. I could hear him laugh throughout many of the play's funny moments.
As amazing as the show was, I was dedicated to my task- following the book in case an actor needed a line. Sure, I was a little scared that someone would slip up. After all, the show was still in previews. Should someone need a line, I was there to deliver it. Thinking that such a moment could occur put me in a slight, state of panic, because suddenly, all eyes (or ears for that matter) would be on an unknown, volunteer who had never done this before. Truth!
The show was going smoothly. It was well into the final act, and I was comforted in seeing that there were only about 15 pages to go before the end of the play. No one needed a line. I don't want to give away the story, but there is a wonderful scene between Judas, played by Sam Rockwell, and Jesus, played by John Ortiz. It was one of those moments in the theater, where you couldn't take your eyes off the stage. Two amazing actors living the beautifully written words on the page. My attention was distracted by a flicker from my flashlight. “Oh no! Dear God No!”, I screamed in my mind. My light kept flickering, becoming dimmer, and dimmer, and dimmer, until....OUT!
No problem. I'm resourceful. I went into MacGyver mode. Where in a dark theater can you find a light source on the fly? Why, on those lights near the aisle that help guide you or the ushers to the row you are sitting in, when you come back from the lobby or the bathroom. Of course! So I'm scrambling on the ground, ass in the air, looking like a fool. I had the script up against the dim light that barely illuminated the letter of the row I was sitting in. Sure enough, as I'm trying to find my place on the page with the dimmest of lights, Sam Rockwell calls “LINE!”
SHIT! NOOOOOOO! I broke out into a crazy sweat. Sam calls for his line again. I couldn't see a thing. I'm smacking the flashlight. I don't recall how long the silence was for, but I was propelled to throw out some improvised lines, hoping that they would help trigger the correct lines. Eventually the stage manager called out the correct lines from the booth and the play proceeded with no further problems.
I did not want to look at anyone once the lights came up, let alone run into Philip. The stage manager came up to me afterward and asked what happened. I explained about the flashlight, and she was really nice about whole thing.
Months later, at the Celebrity Charades event, where Philip's team won again, I walked up to him and introduced myself. He was so generous. I'll never forget what he said when I told him that I've been volunteering for some time and how I loved it. He said “Yeah man! I've seen you around. Thanks so much for your help. Angel. Right?” “Uh, yeah,” I replied. Mind you, I had a few tequila shots in me, so I decided to tell him about the flashlight incident during the preview of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot”. He just laughed it off, put his arm on my shoulder and said “Really, thanks for all of your work.'' That was last time I had any contact with him.
A year later I moved to L.A. The only way I kept up with the company news, members, and my friends was via the emails and social media.
I replayed that whole experience once the news of his passing was relayed to me. I thought about how my friends who knew him well and worked closely with him must have felt; the pain they were going through. I thought about the family he left behind. I thought about how so many people would begin to judge, without understanding or knowing the pain and disease of addiction.
Philip inspired so many actors by being so bold in creating memorable characters on stage and film. I don't want to go on listing every role, but I think it's safe to say that every character he created was amazing. My cousin and I recently had a conversation about his work. Our favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman character that he portrayed: All of them!
Gone to soon. May you inspire more souls on your new journey.