One of the many pleasures of my trip home was seeing two of my former teachers, Lea Shepard and Linda Spencer. Mrs. Shepard is retiring this year after 35 years of teaching at Independence High School. She was my speech teacher and forensics coach. She was the person who introduced the plays of Neil Simon to me and the first person I thought of years later when I met him. I made a joke on Facebook yesterday that I found my old forensics medals and that I was going to bring them back to LA and start wearing them to my commercial auditions. I actually did come across these medals, and there are a few and I remembered the elation I felt when I won my first one, a silver for Humorous Solo Acting with God’s Favorite, by Neil Simon. Believe it or not, I had not been a fine athlete and it wasn’t until this moment, at 15, that I found something at which I excelled a little. And Mrs. Shepard was there. In fact, she picked the piece for me. She must have sensed I had a little bit of Charles Nelson Reilly in me.
After the festival on Saturday, there was a party and I got to spend a little time with her because we were sitting at the same table. It’s fun going to the bar and getting drinks for your favorite teacher. We talked about ghosts, high school, theatre, Independence, Inge. At the end of the night, as my friend Joel and I were saying goodbye to her, partially fueled by budget Chardonnay, I was overcome with emotion, thinking how much this woman had impacted the lives of me and many others. My voice was shaky and I said, “Not to get all Goodbye, Mr. Chips here, but I want you to know how much you meant to me.” It was a little clumsy and it did not know go the way, I’d hoped (Extemporaneous Speaking was NOT my category). And then I made a joke that, “If a 44-year-old drunk gay guy is standing here weeping about what a good teacher you are, that must mean SOMETHING.” And then we laughed and then we left the party. When I think of teachers, I think of Lea Shepard. If you are reading this, and you had Mrs. Shepard, you probably feel the same way. And if you did not have Mrs. Shepard, I hope you had A Mrs. Shepard. At the festival, several times I heard people ask her what she was going to do after retirement. It was something I asked her myself. I don’t know what’s next but, I feel her future holds unlimited potential, the kind of potential she alway made her students feel like they had.