Two weeks ago we lost one of our oldest friends, Louis Cicotello. Now, with the unexpected death of Millie Harrison last Saturday, we've lost one of our youngest, and one of our our best. This one is hard to talk about, partly because we find ourselves talking in cliches--- "Millie never wasted a moment of her life," "She lived every moment," "She's an inspiration for us all," etc. All true, too. Here she is with Katie Girton.
Millie was 19 when she died, just about the age when some of our younger students begin to work with us. But Millie had been with us since she was 13, when she was cast as the Little Beggar in our production of The Arabian Nights, and once we met Millie we didn't let her go. She appeared on stage in some celebrated minor roles. She was an exceptionally fetching box of French Fries in The Santaland Diaries.
She was an intentionally unmemorable stunt double as a sleeping body in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Backstage, Millie was everywhere, always in the center of the action, yet never calling attention to herself. Find her here.
Millie became our ongoing THEATREWORKS super-intern, a position we would have liked her to have occupied for the next fifty years. She was too useful to be our mascot, but too adorable, too cute and too young not to be. She did everything, she did everything well, with enthusiasm, dedication, competency---and-- here's the actual truth-- with joy. In the long dark nights of technical reheasals, there was always a sunflower in our theatre--Millie's face. Day in, day out, Millie brightened our lives.
Millie was a genuinely cheerful person, but fortunately spiced with mischief. Kari Martin, our producing director, remembers how Millie programmed her phone with random alarms reminding Kari to smell flowers, chase rainbows, and blow her nose. Millie also reprogrammed her name in Kari's directory as "Millie is Awesome." Kari let that one stand and rightly so, because Mille was awesome. When we wanted an A-team backstage crew for the 1001 rapid costume changes required in The Mystery of Irma Vep, the first person I asked for was Millie. As it turned out, for once I didn't get her --- the secret was out and another theatre needing her talents had asked for her hand first.
Mille didn't belong only to us, but Kari remembers how quickly she became part of our THEATREWORKS family. She had a very good one of her own, too, and sometimes they joined us. Kari told me her parents wanted to know if they could "do a little something" for Millie's 14th birthday between our Saturday shows of The Arabian Nights. What the cast found in our green room that afternoon, as Kari describes, were "streamers, 15 pizzas, a cake shaped like a spider, sodas, snacks and handmade marshmallow pretzel monsters for each cast member. This was the first of 1001 potluck suppers and desserts that her parents brought to us through the years." Engage Millie, and you'd get fed by Terri and Cecil. One very sweet deal.
Everyone on our staff has a special Millie memory---but one of our favorites was the summer she spent with us working on our repertory of Hamlet and Antonio's Revenge. The latter play ends with a grotesquely comic mass regicide -- for which Millie was stationed under the stage with a large syringe of blood she squirted up through the floor boards. She loved this assignment. She beamed when I first gave it to her. Kari remembers, "the first night she produced a two foot stream, and the audience groaned in delight. The next night it was up to four feet, with proportionately more appreciation. So the night after, Millie shot her stream a full sixteen feet, splattering on our lights. We are still cleaning red colored corn syrup off our instruments." Throughly awesome Millie, giving her usual 320%, and very happy about it too. Find her and some of her handiwork here:
Kari also remembers that in Hamlet, "Millie made a nest of pillows under the stage and lay there every night listening to the show, which she learned nearly by heart. One of her assignments was to pass up poor Yorick's skull to the first gravedigger, Bob Rais. One night Bob went completely blank. The first gravedigger was staring at the second gravedigger; the second gravedigger was staring back. The show stopped dead in its tracks. Then, from the deepest part of the grave, Millie's voice called out, 'Fetch me a stroup of liquor.'" The show went on. Find Millie here.
Millie was far too bright a light to be hidden in the dark--- I once saw her put on a blonde wig and lipstick and play Marilyn Monroe at Wasson High School--and she was terrific, fun and sexy too. So I'm not saying she always belonged under our stage. But even so, whenever we build a deck in our theater, I'm likely to think of Millie under it, invisible, alert, smiling, ready for magic and mischief, ready to go. And I kind of hope that one night when we've turned out the lights after rehearsal, on our way towards the theatre exit, I will her her clear voice ringing out: "Fetch me a stroup of liquor."
And Millie, I will, too. Along with a monster marshmallow pretzel. On the double. And call everyone I know. And we will all just sit there with you and listen to your lovely, young beating heart.