by Lee Bridges
In 1984, I was a painfully insecure teenage girl from a dysfunctional family. I was depressed, underweight, badly groomed, and rejected by my peers. My only solace was to be the stage manager at our school’s theater.
One day, actors from the famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival came to perform for the school. One of them was Barry Kraft, and he was unlike anyone I’d ever met. A successful leading actor in the country’s best theater companies. A well-known Shakespeare scholar. A published poet. The Oregon State chess champion. A confident, humorous, likable man, held in great esteem by his colleagues.
As I ran around backstage helping him get props organized, he treated me with the casual friendliness and respect that he would show for friends in his living room. Did I like acting? What did I like to study? Where was I thinking of going to college? At first I was flattered, but then I figured he was just making small talk to while away the time before the performance.
He showed up at our drama class and asked everyone to recite a monologue. I had already pegged myself as a loser, so I figured he’d cringe. To my shock, he took me aside after class and said, “Your monologue was the best. That was really very good.”
I made it through graduation and got accepted to college. That summer, I traveled with a friend to see Mr. Kraft perform at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. During one performance, I screwed up my courage and dropped him a note at intermission, saying I was visiting and if he looked he could see us in the 15th row. Almost immediately I regretted sending the note. I thought it was the most presumptuous thing I had ever done.
At the end of the show, he was waiting for me! He smiled broadly and gave me a hug. Then he said, “Would you like to visit backstage?” And off we went. Every time we met someone, he introduced me and said, “She’s a very good performer who was a huge help to me at her school visit.” Afterward, he made sure I got safely back to my motel and wished me success in my studies.
It is difficult to describe how important this man’s attention was to me. A successful actor doesn’t have to give a depressed teenager the time of day, but he did far more. My confidence had just increased 800 percent; after all, if a man like him could like me, I must not be so bad after all. I went on to a successful college career.
I am now a happily married professional, and whenever I notice an adolescent in need, I remember Barry Kraft. He saw a teenager in need of attention and support, and he took the time help. So now I take the time, too.