Thursday, August 20, 2009

Al Shea and Beth Trepagnier

Al Shea at the 2009 Big Easy Theatre Awards holding his Lifetime Achievement Award

Sometimes my many different worlds collide. In my work as an IT consultant, I am constantly traveling from one side of the city to the other and meeting clients. In my volunteer work as a member of the Big Easy Theatre Committee, I am usually occupied watching local productions on most weekends and seeing members of the theatre community. Many of my friends and associates know of my deep commitment to Scouting, while others know of my work as a journalist in the New Orleans Jewish community. In the last week several divergent forces have come together with me as their focus. First of all, I began the week heading over to the assessor's office to deal with my home assessment. I wasn't there more than an hour before I saw one of the leaders of the Order of the Arrow, Connell Valette, who had just traveled with me to NOAC in Bloomington, Indiana earlier in the month. It turns out he works for one of the seven assessor's offices at City Hall. No sooner did I see him then I spotted the Fleur-de-lis District Chairman Eugene Green, who was working in yet another assessor's office to help during the very busy time of year. Eugene and I are two of the key leaders in the district that covers almost all of Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes. Since the two had never met before, I was compelled to introduce one to the other. But the colliding of worlds was far from over there. As a member of the Big Easy Committee, I have been very familiar with a fellow member, Al Shea, a local TV legend. Shea began his career at WDSU-TV back in the 1960's and I grew up watching him in various capacities over the course of the last four decades, especially at PBS affiliate WYES-TV, where he served as the host of "Steppin' Out," a local review show focused on the arts and media. He was an acknowledged authority on local theatre and had worked at the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) Theatre in his halcyon days as well as at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, the nation's oldest continuously operating community theatre. Only a few months ago, Shea had been acknowledged by his own theatre committee at the Big Easy Theatre Awards with the Lifetime Achievement Award. He was a happy, sincere fellow, who was compassionate about theatre and the arts. Sadly, it was announced some weeks ago that he was suffering from the effects of bladder cancer and that his prognosis was not good. Hospice care was advised, according to my sources. It turns out that I work as a consultant with a very good hospice in Harahan, River Region Hospice. I was called in to do some work on premises and, fortuitously, I found that he was spending his days there with his daughter Jennifer and several close friends nearby. It was nothing less than Providence intervening. I visited with him for a short while. I could see the apparent strain on his face. He claimed he wasn't in pain, but I had the impression he was uncomfortable, but was being a trooper, in the storied tradition of the stage and wasn't letting on about it. In the meantime the technician from the internet service provider and phone company I had been working with last week let slip that she had been at the last show of "Livin' Janis," a production starring Dorian Rush that detailed the life of Janis Joplin. Then she let me know she was also a performer. I'm not sure why, but phone companies seem to be a haven to erstwhile musicians. David Malone of the legendary Radiators has been a line technician in the past and so it seemed downright appropriate that Beth Trepagnier also work in the field. Trepagnier showed me her website , her MySpace page and told me about her new CD, "Louisiana Lover." She's been getting play across Europe and in various U.S. markets. She let me know about a CD release party being held this coming Saturday night, August 22. I'll be there for a bit to support her in her efforts. Trepagnier's past studies as a guitarist led her to become an instructor some years back. She's clearly at home playing and singing and her voice is sometimes raw and sweet, which is good for honey and blues singers as well. Since I was in the neighborhood again, I stopped by Shea's room two days ago. He was alone, resting and moving in and out of sleep. I said my goodbye to him softly and urged several friends I saw on Tuesday night to make all haste and see him soon. Regrettably, I must report that Al Shea departed this world earlier this morning. His "light and love," as our dear, late friend Cynthia Owen would have said, has moved on. Rest in peace, my friend, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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