This past Tuesday, Ken Anderson, passed away. I first met Ken in 1978 when I was chosen to play Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, my first production at UW-Fox. Our relationship continued through the years with musicals and appearances that Ken directed. Most recently when my son, Tim Marsh, starred in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the beautiful new theatre at UW-Fox, I called Ken to see if perhaps he's like to come as my date to see one of the performances. I was unable to reach him and left a message. Sadly, I never heard from him.
Before that our contact was sporadic. He had started converting VHS tapes of his many theatre productions at UW-Fox to a DVD format and had sent me copies of some of the shows in which I had performed. There was never a note, not a word, just the DVD. After the first one arrived I called to thank him and found that things had changed with Ken. No more the usual effusive conversation laden with details, it was just...off. Then I received a letter from Ken and when I opened the envelope it was empty. I didn't know if it was meant for something important so when he called to ask for the address of someone from the past he just laughed about the omission and the short conversation regarding the address was brief. The Ken I knew was articulate, humorous, on top of it and suddenly I knew that time and the losses of the past few years had taken their toll.
As a professor at the university there was something going on all the time, people in and out of his office, plays to choose, productions to cast, rehearsals and his famous grief sheets to write. Oh how we loved the grief sheets! The griefs were his notes, notes he made as he watched you rehearse. He'd tear off each little comment and hand it to you after the rehearsal. They were his signature. I still have some of mine. In fact, after retirement he authored two books on the subject, Good Grief Volume One and Two.
Ken's style of direction was truly unique and for some, the new ones, frustrating. Ken left the digging for the character and his relationship to the storytelling up to the actor. And when you're starting out you're looking for guidance but...it forced you to think, to try, to lament with your fellow actors, to determine who you were to the story. What you didn't realize at the beginning was that this was Ken's style, his method to get you to live in the character, feel how he felt, move as he would move. To quote Ken, "To tell the story better than it's ever been told." Yes, Ken was one of a kind but he was so much more than "the theatre guy" at UW-Fox.
Ken was an athlete, loved sports of many kinds and when I knew him he was in excellent shape from playing handball almost daily. As with everything, he committed to it. Furthermore, Ken played an active part in his community and as with everything else, he was a participator, a leader. He'd often direct little shows providing entertainment for special events and many of us who he'd worked with at the Center were part of that as well. For a while he did a radio show on Saturday mornings featuring performers and interviews, a local show with a little Ken pizazz.
Above all Ken was a proud father and dedicated husband. He and his wife, Ruth, were always an exquisite team, as far as their family was concerned and their working together as Ken launched yet another show. Ruth opened their home for rehearsals and helped with costuming. Ken would probably describe her as "a real trouper." I don't know for sure but I think when Ken retired, Ruth was a little glad, finally having him all to herself, not sharing him with all those actors and singers. Though he continued his community involvements it was nothing like the long evenings at the Center.
But then came the health issues. Ken sustained some sight loss and that took its toll. Then Ruth fell and broke a hip and while she was in surgery for the hip repair, she had a stroke. She was confined to a nursing home for 3 years. Ken spent his days there until she died recently and my thought is that was the final straw.
After I read Ken's obituary in Sunday's paper I realized I knew only part of what made Ken Anderson tick. His accomplishments were far more extensive that I even knew but what I did know was that he was an exceptional person, a man of many talents and someone I felt privileged to know.