Tim Flavin considers the sad passing of a colleague
We lost one of our own last month - a leading lady, an enigma, a human being. She passed on in a brief flurry of newspaper articles and obituaries. Her name was Stephanie Lawrence.
I first saw Stephanie perform in 1984 when I came to this country to appear in On Your Toes at the Palace Theatre. I went to a performance of Starlight Express soon after it opened at the Apollo Victoria, and shining through extensive make-up and heavy costume was an energetic little blonde with the voice of an angel. Beauty and talent on skates. Over the next few years our paths crossed innocuously as we shared the bill on the odd charity do. Stephanie was a firm fixture in the West End playing a wide range of leading roles, her exceptional portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in Marilyn assuring her place in the highest echelons of musical theatre. We finally worked together in Kiss Me, Kate at the Savoy Theatre when she took over the role of Kate from Nicola McAucliffe. It was a tough act to follow but Stephanie rose to the occasion with the talent and commitment of a seasoned professional.
The last opportunity I had to see Stephanie perform was in the role of Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers. She was no longer the svelte, little gal I first saw on skates, but her new maturity gave the role exactly the substance it required. And the voice. A clear and poignant clarion call that touched the audience with depth and sensitivity.
My professional experiences with Stephanie Lawrence were few. I did not really know her. I had no insights into her personal life. As far as I knew, Stephanie was another show biz peer who had achieved a certain level of fame by doing her job well. But, of course, there were stories. In the theatre world, stories will circulate about anyone dedicated enough to achieve a high profile and the pressures of the spotlight can be great enough to create the kind of behaviour that inspires this kind of gossip. But what are we achieving when we whisper and giggle in the dressing room over someone's misfortune? A human tragedy evolves and instead of getting involved we point at and denigrate the transgressor invalidating the talent and effort that originally won our respect. I don't approve of bad temper or lack of professionalism any more that anyone else, but this kind of conduct is usually a cry for help, the kind of situation our leap to judgement blinds us to. When Stephanie started exhibiting problems, were there enough of us there for her? Or did we jump on the bandwagon of condemnation? Or were we all so preoccupied with our own lives that we merely failed to see?
I am currently working with musical theatre students at Guilford School of Acting and I look at them and wonder, not only at their potential for success, but at their possible proclivity to self-destruct if success is achieved. It is in all of us to succeed or fail in the thespian quest for fame and fortune, but our journey is driven purely by our egos. The foundation of love from which I believe our artistic inspiration and dedication originate, get tangled in the overly competitive demands of the workplace.
Insecurities are inclined to blossom some if we pursue unrealistic ideals of perfection in our craft. If we forget who we really are and what our original goals were it becomes easier to get lost amidst the superficial quality of life in the theatre. It appears that Stephanie Lawrence lost her way, and perhaps if a few of us had been paying attention her death may have been avoided. Maybe. Life is full of 'what if's' and 'if only's'. But Stephanie's passing was a tragedy, and whether we saw it or not we are all responsible to the degree that we passed comment without thought or turned a blind eye.
At this time of year, good things abound. We seem to realise the best in ourselves. Charitable thoughts, generous actions. It's a phenomenon that indeed is joyful yet somewhat sad in that it is seasonal and predictable rather than consistent and spontaneous. We're eager to be supportive of those who impress us, but the minute there is a fall from grace we're not always aware that someone in our midst may be crying out for help. So, let us remember Stephanie in the positive light of love. Let us treasure the memories she has left us of her God-given talent. And let us dedicate ourselves to being there in the future when someone, anyone, is crying out for our support and comfort. Imagine if it were you?
Love to you all. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Source: Musical Stages magazine, winter 2000.