Tuesday, July 13, 2010

With Love: Stanley E. Williams & Quentin Easter

I'm stunned to read of the back-to-back deaths of two men I knew well, worked for, and liked a lot:

Quentin Easter and Stanley E. Williams, founders of San Francisco's glorious Lorraine Hansberry Theatre.

The very definition of "opposites attract", these two were quite the formidable pair:

Quentin - completely unflappable - always calm, cool, and collected, a man the words "quiet dignity" were invented for. His sleepy brown eyes were always welcoming; and I really mean that - Quentin always had time to talk. He could have played like some big shot theatre guy - which is what he was - but, first and foremost, before the business lunches and whatever, he was a real live thinking feeling human being of the first order. He knew what was what, and who was who, and when he took the measure of a man, it got took. He loved success, but from what I could see, nothing ever went to his head. While I'm sure he would balk at the idea of me calling him a conservative, in many ways he was, and that air of respectability allowed he and Stanley to push open a lot of doors for a hell of a lot of people. I admired him greatly, and value every word of advice he's ever given me, which was a lot.

I wish I could thank him in person.

Not that I've met many people who were even remotely like him, Stanley was that kind of gay guy who always telegraphed his hair was on fire, the only question being if he was enjoying it or not. Stanley was a hustler. He talked too fast, he walked too fast, and if he ever did slow down enough to focus on you, it was either to try and seduce you into doing what he wanted, or, with those always-a-little-too-wide-open eyes, he'd glare you into submission. Oh, Stanley was an angry black man, and didn't mind letting you in on it. All that said, he could also be about as warm, understanding, and compassionate a man as you were likely to meet. It just depended on the time of day. You see, like Quentin with the finances, Stanley was a genius, able to make something out of nothing in the old slave tradition, and yet, so consumed with artistic passion, the sometimes-mad vision that drove him took every one, and every thing, he touched to places no one but he imagined possible. And he did it over and over and over again. Burning. Seriously, if you didn't like one of Stanley's plays, all I have to say is imagine what it would've been like without him. Stanley's shit was so on, it's still hard for me to grasp that a mind, functioning at that capacity and caliber, could be stilled. I know: I'm an atheist. But I'm talking about Stanley. All bets are off on anything.

Stanley hired me for what would turn out to be two seasons, the first as a composer and artist, and the second as an archivist, finding and supplying him with period music for the world premiere of The Huey P. Newton Story starring Roger Guenveur Smith. Though his brilliant Russian soundman and I spent a lot of time together, on occasion I still had to go over to Quentin and Stanley's to preview pieces and discuss sound cues, and there was nothing funnier than watching Stanley go from elation to despair, and back again, based on what he heard. If he liked something, he'd be beaming as though he'd done it himself, already imagining how he was going use it. If it wasn't working for him, then Good Lord, fix it, fix it now, no, fix it where I can hear it, now, I need to hear it (he's addressing the keyboard as though it's controlled by magic) "fix it." I'd look at Quentin, who'd be rolling his eyes, and then I'd do whatever and there was Stanley, arms raised to the heavens again. I loved that. He was hilarious - and everything I thought a great director ought to be. He and Quentin, both, were just outstanding.

Fuck, now I'm going to cry.

My condolences to anyone who had the privilege to know these two great men and/or their work. They are missed.