This morning a dear colleague of mine passed away--Douglas Alan Mann. Doug was a director, actor and theatre magician in Chicago. His company Chicago Theatre Company (CTC) put on some of the best damned productions that the city-- no, the nation has ever seen. In 1998 when I was a pup just months away from graduating conservatory, he was the first professional director I ever auditioned for. I can remember my good friend and classmate Meghan McDonaugh loaning me her car, and on a overcast Friday afternoon--in hella traffic, I drove from DeKalb to the South Side to the tiny basement theatre. Naturally I was all gussied up, hair coiffed, face beat, and monologues polished. Oh I was so serious. I was an ACTOR. I was gregarious, had bravada and demanded respect! I was like a young Frasier Crane. I signed in, went down the steps and there sat Doug. I can still remember the thrust like space, and even though he was the only one there--I wanted my voice and my essence to fill the room. And I was ACKTING. I knew Shakespeare, Marlowe, Satre! I was going to wow this director. I could speak well, and I had a pretty good rack. I just knew I was gonna be Lolita for that mothafucka, okay? I was young and smelling myself. I expected him to jump to his feet. Well, the only thing he was into was his sandwich. He ate during my audition. During my audition! I can recall thinking "I done borrowed this girl's car, drove from butt fuck Egypt, painted my lips, pinched my cheeks to perform a Spoon River monologue for this nword-- and he eating a sandwich? Oh Gods! Smite me now, for I am ashame-d.."
I thought, he thought I was terrible.
Well, of course that wasn't the case. Because I'm fucking great. I'm kidding. Doug was just cool as hell. And he didn't put on airs...and he damn sure wasn't about to let a young buck think she was anything but a newbie. We talked for a while after my audition, and I was smitten by his deep melodic voice and gorgeous buttermilk skin. He was an older cat--a vet...and he championed my career like so many other vets. You see back then, if the old heads liked you? You worked. Luther Goins, Ilesha Lisa Duncan, David Barr--and so many others that made up Chicago Theatre Company. A place where Blactors thrived and we didn't have to feel like anything other than artists. We didn't have the thought "Oh I wonder which black play the so and so theatre is doing?" CTC just did good plays--that happened to be about Black people. We didn't have to bite out tongues or explain our hair. Our clothes. Our swagger. Our language. Our selves.
Doug battled health issues, and so I am happy he is out of pain. But I am deeply saddened...and humbled. I am so thrilled to have known him. And so many other Blactor Vets. Those who are alive. And those who belong to the ages. And so Mr. Mann, I tip my hat to you. Thanks for giving this girl a chance.
Rest my darling Doug. We love you brother.
Macbeth, Act V, Sc. V
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow