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Lance Goss Eulogy

Theatre Studies

 

Delivered by Ward Emling, Class of 1976
Brookhaven, Mississippi
March 13, 2001

Shakespeare's Richard II is a play of sadness, of volatile changes, but ultimately one of great hope and a beginning; it is also one of his most poetic, and therefore, of course was a favorite of Lance's. One line reads:
"I count myself in nothing else so happy
As a soul rememb'ring my good friends."

I have the enormous, frightening, and wonderful task of representing all of the actors ... the thousands of Millsaps Players, fifty years of an exponential family with one exceptional father. And I have an embarrassing confession: I never took one of Lance's speech classes, which I hope will not now become horribly obvious.

Lance's nephew, Gary Robinson, told me the other day that he was almost a teenager before he realized that I was not a member of his family. Well I didn't want to go into it over the phone, but Gary, look around you - we're all part of the family. You might want to start that Christmas shopping a little early this year.

Trying to gather together thoughts and talk about Lance is much like looking for a perfect quote in Shakespeare about something, anything: there's so much to choose from. All I can hope to do here is create a place, a beginning, for all of you to remember and to smile and to be overwhelmed by this life that is a part of us all.

So I have another quote, this one from some play called Hamlet, Act I, scene 2:
"He was a Man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again."

Lance Goss was a dedicated man - to his family, to his actors, to his friends, and to the theatre: with passion and commitment, with vision and understanding, with skill and friendship, with love and genius. No one has had a greater impact on the theatre of Mississippi and no one ever will.

Year in and year out for more than forty-six years, four or five plays each year, Lance Goss presented the great theatre of the world's playwrights to a transfixed Mississippi audience: young and old, black and white, urban and rural. And in that time thousands of students became actors - some for a moment, some for the rest of their lives: all touched and transported by the magic of the stage, each fostered and guided by Lance. No student of Lance's escaped the power of his teaching, the nurture of his attention, the focus of his commitment.

In 1952, Jackson Daily News Arts Editor Frank Hains wrote, "Lance Goss and his [Millsaps] Players have, I suspect, done more to raise theatrical standards than any other force." 1952: he was just getting started.

Every corner of the world has seen one of his students: every field of endeavor, from politics to education to science to publishing to public service. No profession ans no continent has escaped the influence of the students of Lance Goss.

Lance's actors went everywhere. Many were accepted into the finest drama schools in the world: Julliard and the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City; The Royal Academy, Central School, and the Guildhall School in London. They have appeared on stages from Paris to London to New York to Los Angeles to Tokyo. They have appeared in feature films and on every television screen in the world. And if you ever listen to a John Grisham book on tape, you've heard one of Lance's actors. And those are just they who chose acting as a profession.

Lance's actors can also be found in every city in Mississippi and throughout America. Many are still acting for the pure love of the art ... a love that was instilled and enhanced by hours on the stage under Lance's loving eye. Many more are directing, passing down to their neighbors and the next generation what they learned about theatre ... what they discovered about themselves ... what they found to love on Lance's stage. If it is true that the strength of any place is the life of its communities, Lance Goss is the Odysseus of Mississippi.

Such a career is also marked by firsts, and Lance loved the firsts in his world:

The first integrated audience in Mississippi
The first American non-Broadway premieres of several plays, including Camelot and My Fair Lady
The first ever non-professional premiere of Robert and Elizabeth
He was first among directors in this country, perhaps in the world, in staging the works of that other great man of the theatre from Mississippi, Tennessee Williams
And he was the first person to cast Dale Danks as a villain.

We all have our own personal firsts:
The first time I ever called a teacher by their first name
The first time I ever had Bananas Foster (It was also the first time I ever met him. Buddy Prince had dragged Doug and me up the stairs to that apartment by the fraternity houses.)
The first time I ever watched an entire heavyweight fight live: "the Thrilla in Manila" (Doug had convinced him to be the first on his block with HBO.)
The first time I ever ate an entire half gallon of ice cream in one sitting
The first time he made that face - you know the face - when you mispronounced a word, or sang the wrong note (When I saw him in December I gave him some cranberry juice, and there was that face. So now we know where it came from...)

Those are just a few of mine, and I hope you all have your own rolling about in your heads right now.

Look around you. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, public servants, business leaders, publishers, journalists, musicians, computer programmers, sheriffs, chefs, designers, ministers, coaches - and I dare say bakers and candle-stick makers: name a profession, and it will probably offer up someone who has been on one of Lance's stages. And each of us will point to Millsaps, to Lance, and to that moment in our lives when we were an actor.

We have all become teachers following Lance Goss. That is how we seek to repay him for what he did for us; for what he gave to Millsaps, to Jackson, to Mississippi and beyond; for all he meant to us: the actors, and to everyone: the audience. We all knew then, and we are all reminded today, that we were all made special by his love and by his inspiration and by his genius.

Personally, I can remember every moment in his presence. I can recall every lesson, every praise, every rebuke, every handshake and every hug. I was sitting in his office when I got my first production job in the film business, and he was the first call I made after being cast in my first film. Lance Goss changed my life. I have no idea what turns and circles it would have taken. I can't imagine my professional life without his influence. But beyond that ... whatever new road map my life would have followed ... absent Lance, my life would be without the model of compassion, the level of commitment, the stance of confidence, and the security of love that are in my life because of one friend, one mentor, one extraordinary teacher.

I don't like to go to hospitals. I don't like to see people not as I want to remember them - not as I have known them - but when I saw Lance in December, there he was - he was frail and his voice was thin - but there he was, with all the power of his impact and presence in my life. We talked - and he made that face - and we laughed. And when I told him that Jennifer had won an Emmy for producing Tuesdays with Morrie, those eyes lit up with pride ... and with that joy and that hope that we have all dreamed one day for. There he was.

There is the image of a drop of water hitting the surface of a lake and radiating out touching all sides - touching and interacting. I used to think of Lance as that drop of water and of you and me as the ripples. But now I think the drops of water are each of us - and Lance was the Rainmaker who touched us all: who everyday shakes us and gives us hope, and makes us brave, and helps us live.

Thanks, Lance. We love you.