I have known far too many “personalities” and not enough “persons” in the theatre world. I have been around for over a half-century, playing with this past-time, and have seldom gotten to the true human behind the mask. The truth is, personality is extremely prized among actors. It’s the first thing I check out when I’m casting a show that I’m to direct. I want people
who shine out when they walk on stage.
Those with big personalities, generally have big egos as well. It comes with the territory. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it can often lead to drama that is not prized in our world. This is why, when I meet, or hear about someone who has not over-developed his ego, it’s like a fresh breeze blowing through my consciousness.
This past week, a young man died. His name was Jared Benson. He was thirty-three years old. He had a wife, four children, and, I hear, often, foster children. I’m not sure what he did for a living. I don’t know where he went to school, what his hobbies were, what he liked to eat. In fact,until this week, I did not know he existed.
I do know that he did this: He encouraged his two pre-teen daughters to go to Van Wert Civic Theatre, to audition, early this year, for the musical “Beauty and the Beast”. Everything was fine. His daughters were going to be cast. But none of the men who auditioned fit the part of the scary/not really scary Beast. The director had made it quite clear. The bushes needed to be scoured for the right actor. Benson’s daughters begged him to
come to the theatre with them, They knew he’d be perfect. Benson’s last theatre experience had been 15 years earlier in a high-school production of “The Wiz.² So, he wasn’t sure about this, but he went with his daughters’ wishes, and went to the theatre, where the director cast him for this huge role.
The rest of that story was that Jared was more than adequate in the show. He was terrific, and so was the musical. But this happens all the time. Actors appear almost from nowhere, to star in important roles. But this man was different. The cast fell in love with this guy. He was funny,studious, dedicated, and, most of all, caring. Here was someone so genuine, a Stage Innocent, so to speak. Everyone to whom I have spoken, has had nothing but superlatives to say about his character, and their excitement at
the possibility of doing more stage work with him.
All this changed from excitement, this week, to sorrow and disbelief. Benson, struck by a devastating condition, was taken in just four days. The community was rocked, as any would be when a young, huge-future-ahead-of-him man is taken too soon.
But this is a double sorrow for those of us in the theatre community. Not only did we lose a great friend, but a potential entertainer and teacher. We often lose members of our fraternity to changes in their location, weariness, and even death. But these losses are seldom so sudden and unlooked-for. So, it is with great sadness, we mourn the passing of one of
us, even such a short-term friend. We send our condolences to the Van Wert area, the VWCT, and to his stunned and grieving family. And we thank Jared for his efforts for his children, for “Beauty and the Beast” and for his fellow Thespians. R.I.P.!