Notes on Professor Jack Lee's Passing

Jack Lee. Photo courtesy of Jeff Zadroga.

Jack Lee. Photo courtesy of Jeff Zadroga.

Today I found out that Jack Lee had passed away. One semester, once a week, for a few hours, I took Jack Lee's singing class. It was a musical theater class when I was taking mostly acting classes. I relished the time to sing. 

I find myself thinking of the lessons I've learned from him in his class. And thinking about the nineteen year old that I was then  and what I could teach my young self. 

Talk Less. Sing More.

Jack Lee's class was intimidating. I was a sophomore and it was filled with juniors and seniors. I was studying acting and directing, the rest of the class was in CAP 21 (Tisch's musical theatre studio at the time). I knew Into the Woods, they knew Sondheim's entire canon. 

And then there was Mr. Lee himself. We all called him Jack. And we all did that thing where we tried not to make it seem like a big deal that we were in his class. Like, oh yeah, we usually study under people who have worked with Bob Fosse, Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, and Tommy Tune. Just his bio was intimidating.

Even though I'd auditioned and was chosen for the class just like everyone else was, I never felt good enough. And I always felt awkward. I would go home and tell my roommate Kellee how I was the worst one in the class. What a waste.

If I could talk to 19 year old Annie Figenshu (my maiden name is badass, right?), I would tell her to change the thoughts that say, "I'm not as good as they are" to "I deserve to be here."

I would tell myself to stop saying how bad I was in the class. Just stop talking. Stop wasting energy on that.

Sing. Enjoy the class. Listen to what he has to say. Take it in. Get to know the other people in the class (many of them did go on to Broadway). Keep singing.

Talk less. Sing more.

A Life in the Theatre

Listening to Jack Lee talk about Broadway was like having my theatre history books made real. He had worked with the greats. He knew what New York theatre was like before him and could recount stories of that world. When I auditioned for his class I got to see his New York apartment - he had a grand piano in it. And signed posters - one signed by the queen of England! - for all of the different shows he had been a part of. His apartment was filled with pictures, posters, books, and music books.

Me circa 1998.

Me circa 1998.

It was clear he had lived a life in the theatre. And 19 year old me dreamed of having such a life. 

So, if I could talk to my nineteen year old self, I'd tell myself that I will have a life in the theatre. It will be filled with shows and stages; soundchecks and standing ovations. It will be filled with music and auditions and rejections and really nice hotel rooms and really awful hotel rooms. But the bottom line is: it will be a life in the theatre. Just keep singing.

Your 19 Year Old Self

What would you say to yourself at 19? Would love to know. Tweet @annieschiff