Mourning the loss of a mentor and friend in theatre professor Steven Marc Weiss

Illustration by Blair Gauntt
By Josh Beadle

The human brain is fickle. Our memories are unreliable. For instance, I can’t remember the first time I heard David Bowie’s Young Americans, or watched Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles, and I certainly can’t remember the first time I read Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? These works of art had profound effects upon my life and these men became my heroes, my icons. I can’t remember when or why I first met steven marc weiss, but I can remember bonding with him over a shared love of playwrights and a mutual disdain for capital letters in emails (proper nouns be damned) — and our sons were nearly the same age despite the decades difference between the two of us.

I can’t remember how it came to be that I was directing steven in Caryl Churchill’s A Number. I do remember that he hadn’t acted for over five years because of cancer and he was trusting me to direct him in this show. I didn’t understand why. I’m sure he could’ve asked anybody in the theatre community, with far superior skills than my own, and they would’ve jumped at the chance. The show was about fathers and sons, one of steven’s favorite topics to discuss in life. I remember he was worried about performing after so long. He shouldn’t have been. He was brilliant in that play. Often during the show, steven leaned in, which made him slightly hunched, and he looked skinnier than he should be — steven looked almost frail at times. Nothing was farther from the truth. He possessed an inner strength that no one can match, and when he was onstage he filled the room with presence and gravitas.

Again, I can’t remember how it came to be, but we found ourselves working together on John Logan’s Red about six years ago — steven would be playing Mark Rothko during the period when Rothko was painting the Seagram Murals. Here was steven’s chance to share a dialogue about art and mentorship with audiences that he had shared with so many students throughout the years. You would find it difficult to compare steven to Rothko physically. Rothko was a large, hulking man. They were dissimilar physically, but their spirits were the same. steven dominated that show in a way that only he could. I’ve never experienced a similar performance. Most of the rehearsals I would simply sit back and watch the master at work.

Heroes and icons are not meant to live forever. No one is. You might find it hyperbolic to put steven’s name in a list with Bowie, Wilder and Albee, but I don’t. From my vantage point, steven was more impressive than these men. Sure, they were artists of the highest caliber and so was he, but at the end of the day it is not his performances that I will remember. I will remember all the times I met him for tea to discuss art and family and the world. I will remember a person with the highest integrity. A person who was convinced that even the smallest gesture has massive impact. I hope is that I can honor my memory of steven by extolling the virtues he espoused to those around me.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 220.

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