My lifelong passion for theater probably began in postwar Germany, as seen through the eyes of a child in a foreign land, struggling with an unfamiliar language. My father, who was in the military, had been posted to Wurtzberg, Germany, and had gone on ahead. My mother and I crossed the Atlantic alone on a converted military ship, in a dark and cramped room far below deck. Many times before, I had faced new homes… new friends… new states… but never this: a new country? It was a frightening experience for which I was ill-prepared.
Then a wise and caring teacher took me under her wing. Together, Frau Merz and I explored the streets. New experiences had new words; she shared them and I learned. In the Court of the Residenz Platz, a grand palace severely damaged in the war, there was a seasonal market with fragile glass ornaments on display at Christmas. The air was crisp and charged with the expectation of snow. I was wrapped in a coat and boots… and sweaters and a scarf. Surely, the reality of me was somewhere beneath all this!
Suddenly I heard a sharp cry. Pulling mightily at Frau Merz’s outstretched hand, I searched for the inspiration of the sounds of delight, wanting desperately to share the joy. It was a Punch and Judy show! Puppets transported me from a confusing world to a context that needed no words for an explanation. I saw, I heard, I was enraptured by the antics.
Of course, later, I grew to love words as well, but I never lost my childlike awe for the theater. Perhaps that’s what drew me eventually to Emily Dickinson — her genuine passion for the particular, the dramatic moment, the telling word or phrase. She had a child’s honesty and lack of pretension (“I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you—Nobody—Too?”) that I greatly admired. When I first read The Belle of Amherst, I knew I had to direct it but knew, too, that it needed the right actress, whom I eventually found in Sinda Nichols. I hope her singular performance brings you all the joy and rapture of my Punch and Judy show, so many miles and years ago.