Losing My Mentors

As I was working on the website with Ben, I was looking up different information (ah, google) to reflect on where I had been these last 20 or so years, and what I had been able to, only with the guidance of some amazing mentors and coaches, accomplish along my artist journey. And so, here’s to three amazing and life changing souls-all who passed entirely too young-who I could never be confident enough to take risks without.

Please, friends, students, colleagues…never forget who helped guide you along your path-and how each one of those people left a very important footprint along the way. And thank them often.

First, the great and amazing Phoebe Mae Alexander, my first voice teacher. Phoebe was the rarest of rare-beautiful, talented, and intensely human. And of course, more than a little extravagant! I mean, glitter, makeup, fake lashes, the works! A glorious dramatic soprano, she was also a dynamite actor. She had been in movies with Gene Hackman and Bette Davis in her younger years and was originally from Youngstown, where she came back to. I met her at 12 when I was playing a nun in The Sound Of Music at the Youngstown Playhouse (she was of course the Mother Abbess)-and from the moment that I stepped on her robe in rehearsal-I knew we were going to have a colorful and intense relationship! She asked me if she could take me on as a voice student, and I was honored. Without Phoebe, the rest is history. So, thank you beautiful woman. For shaping my path. When she died suddenly when I was 16, I sang at her funeral and they allowed my mom and I to do her makeup the way she would have worn it-because if you didn’t know her, you wouldn’t know! What a ritual that was, and a deep and profound loss. I have kept her with me always. Always.

Then, in my 20’s when I started working professionally for a company in Cleveland called Kalliope Stage, I was gifted the presence of the late and visionary Paul Gurgol as my director. Paul, very simply, saw in me, and so many, what others didn’t even bother to look into. The opportunities I was given to work on my craft under his gorgeous artistry are held as the most influential moments of my early work as an AEA performer. And speaking of AEA, I would never have my equity card without his believing in me. I took on the role of Aurelia in Dear World 24 hours before we opened as he asked me to step in, and I was offered my card. That defining moment taught me that I could get through anything with grace and that I had a friend and mentor in every sense of the word. Paul died entirely too young, and he devoted the last year of his life to working with people and groups that loved to collaborate. I miss him deeply and will not be able to replicate that experience-which is the true treasure.

When I moved to NYC to attend NYU for my master’s, I didn’t want to drop the ball on my vocal work, and dear friend Jeff Saver, via Rebecca Luker, offered up the suggestion of the late and stunning Marianne Challis. Marianne, Joan Lader’s protege, had worked as a vocal technician with so many incredible Broadway performers, and in me, she saw great potential to be a strong and resounding voice in the NYC performance community. Marianne taught me how to access colors and placements I hadn’t yet experienced while doing so with a kind and warm light. I wasn’t in town when I heard that she died suddenly, and again, entirely too young, and so her passing hasn’t always seemed totally real to me. And maybe it’s better that way.

Thank you Phoebe, Paul and Marianne-I have been changed and shaped by each of you-and I will always remember that.


Posted in Drama, Singer, Vocal Arts, Vocal Arts Education and tagged , , , , , , .

Liz Rubino