Last week, Jerry Manning—artistic director of Seattle Repertory Theatre and longtime member of Seattle's theater community—passed away after complications arose following a routine heart procedure. At the Rep, he distinguished himself by navigating a large, nationally prestigious institution while swinging hard for the careers of local actors. In an interview last fall, he told me that when he first came to the Rep, "This city was hemorrhaging its best and brightest." He made it his work to change that. Of all the directors and casting directors in town, he's the one I saw most often in theater lobbies and theater bars.
In the days after his passing, members of Seattle's theater community talked with me about the man, the surprising breadth of his life, and his contributions to their lives and careers. A brief sampling:
Braden Abraham, associate artistic director at Seattle Repertory Theatre: We met in 2002 when I interviewed to be his intern—I went in thinking I really wanted the literary internship, but Jerry was the casting director. The first thing I said to him was, "The internship I really want is the other one." He said, "That's fine, just let me tell you a little bit about what I do." At the end of the conversation, I thought, "I don't care what I do here, but I want to be with this guy."
One of the first stories he told me was about showing up at New York Theatre Workshop, and the first two plays on his desk were Quills and Rent. [Both had their world premieres at NYTW.] And what a messy, hard, and brilliant process that was, working on them. It gave me a sense of the grit and determination and the sense of family that putting a show together requires.
Charles Leggett, actor: Did you ever hear his little chuckle? It was a cross between a chuckle and a snort. It was sudden and loud and brief. I think the way people laugh is revealing. His laugh was an expression of knowledge and understanding, in a sort of perverse way. Not "Oh, yes, hmm, I understand," but more "Yeah, I know that bullshit." He definitely had a skin as thick at any given moment as he needed it to be. A person can be a very special leader if they have an intimate experience with death.
Erin Kraft, casting director at Seattle Repertory Theatre: Jerry used to drop people with his backstory—he was such a huge personality, you assumed he'd always been this way. He worked in DC. He dropped out of getting his master's at the University of Chicago in medieval history and alluded to some scandal everyone would be too discreet to ask about. He blogged on Daily Kos but never told anyone his nom de plume. He could burp the alphabet and then talk about Peter Brook for an hour... He's not a series of events to me. He's all the things I hear myself saying when I'm teaching my intern—or the knowledge that I wouldn't be who I am as a person in the world without him.