While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Jonah @ PGT: Jill Abusch

Jonah'sYears@PGT.2013.11.BlogAd.Final.largeDear friends,

I’m so honored to share with you this very special, very loving portrait of Jonah, written by the one and only Jill Abusch. Read her bio below. Jill, along with her husband Steven, is the heart and soul of Play Group Theatre. For any truly complete reflection on what the intersection of Jonah and PGT was truly about, it’s important to hear from Jill. Needless to say, for the care and guidance and love she gave to both our sons across the years (heck, that’s she’s given to me and Ellen, as well!) we can never offer sufficient gratitude. But I have a wish: that she and Steven be able to do their thing for many, many decades to come, so that tens of thousands of kids will benefit from the same magic they bestowed upon Jonah and Aiden.

While our autumn fundraiser ends on Jan 5, 2014, we’ll be running a bunch more essays written by Jonah’s friends. I hope you enjoy them all.

Billy


 

Jill Abusch remembers …

WritersPix.JillAbuschJill Abusch is the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Play Group Theatre in White Plains, NY. Jill studied acting and directing at the Stella Adler Conservatory and the Classical Studio at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where she earned a BFA in Drama. She adores working alongside her husband and partner, Steven, and is especially proud of their best productions, by far: Aviva and Ilana.

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It was almost exactly a month after Jonah died, in the first week of April. I was driving with my then little girls in the back seat of the car … hearing their little girl chatter in the background but lost in my own thoughts of Jonah, feeling angry and heartbroken and just so terribly sad … and suddenly, I was driving in snow. SNOW! In April. And not just light little flakes of snow … big, swirly snow, falling fast and furious. And all I kept thinking was, of course, how very perfect. This snowfall – so surprising and unpredictable, making my kids scream “It’s snowing!” with equal parts disbelief and wonder, was the perfect metaphor for our Jonah. When I looked up, the snow was swirling excitedly around in the sky, seemingly random and frenzied, but as the flakes landed on my windshield I could see that they indeed had direction and meaning and purpose. It was magical, this snowstorm, because it was unexpected and because it was beautiful and because it was powerful and strong – not a wimpy little snow shower – and because it made all of us smile. And then, just as quickly as it started, the snow stopped. It didn’t gradually slow down and peter out, it just stopped. And when we arrived home and I got out of my car, the sun was shining. It was over too quickly. But I will never, never forget that snowfall.

Jonah burst onto the PGT scene full force. He took the stage by storm and stole our hearts in the process. His exuberance on stage was matched by his off-stage lovable, infectious energy. He had hugs for everyone. Not polite little pats on the back – big, giant, pick-you-up-off-the-floor-and-spin-you-around bear hugs. For his teachers too. I received many.

Hair Jun 2008

Hair
Jun 2008

Audiences LOVED Jonah – they would leave the theatre talking about him because his characters were all larger than life, yet totally truthful. They were all funny and sweet, charming and real, theatrical and always deeply personal. But audiences only got to see a part of Jonah. His PGT friends and teachers are so lucky; we got the backstage Jonah.

Backstage Jonah was mischievous, silly, passionate, industrious … he could also totally goof off, be completely infuriating and distract everyone from their work! He was the student you LOVED to have in your cast and the one you had to ALWAYS keep your eye on! He was the student you had to keep in line, but also, how could you reprimand JONAH?!?!?! He was just being Jonah … he was just doing it HIS way!

Above all, I remember Jonah’s generosity of spirit. The look on his face as he handed out the homemade buttons he created for the cast of Hair on the morning of our closing show – the act of giving this gift, bringing him such total joy – is permanently planted in my heart and mind. The impulsive way he would give a friend a piggyback ride when she didn’t have shoes to wear down to Subway, or the ease and love with which he shared his senior show experience with his baby brother … his ability to jump in and help out with whatever needed to be done around the theatre – no task too great or too small … his sparkly eyes that were windows into his sparkly spirit … his generosity took many forms.

At PGT, we have some golden rules – they are both implicit and explicit in the work we do every day. If we can teach these rules to our students during their time with us, then we have been successful:

  • Make your partner look better than yourself.
  • Work hard, play hard.
  • Bring your best self to everything you do.
  • Listen.

I like to think we taught Jonah a thing or two during his years at PGT. He certainly graduated a different kid than he arrived. But these golden rules weren’t things we had to teach him. Jonah intuitively owned these values. He embodied them – it is who he was.

I have been talking with my students a lot lately about the very nature of live theatre. It is in the moment. It is here and it is gone. The curtain comes down on a show and it is over, gone forever. If you weren’t in the theatre, you missed it. Photographs and videos are nice reminders, but they can’t replicate the experience. You had to be there to see it … you had to see it to understand it. That is what makes it so special. And yet … and yet. We are part of an incredible tradition, those of us who spend our lives in the theatre. Centuries of artists have come before us and we have inherited their plays, their superstitions, their techniques, their legends, their ideas and ideals. So, while the art itself is fleeting, its impact is long-lasting. And, on a smaller scale, here at PGT … nearly twenty years of young actors, teachers, designers, directors have now passed through our little world. Shows open and they close. They are here and they are gone. But left behind are twenty years of traditions, life lessons, memories, role models … a foundation upon which our current and future students and staff can make their own art.

And, in those twenty years, is our Jonah. You had to know Jonah to understand him … you had to experience Jonah to know him. I can write about him, I can tell stories about him … but like photographs of live theatre, my words can only tell you so much. Jonah had to be experienced in the moment. That is what made him so special. And yet … he leaves behind so much for us to build upon. From the fun off-stage memories to the gorgeous art he created to the life lessons he embodied and passed along to the rest of us. His life was fleeting, but its impact long-lasting.

I miss Jonah all the time. He was unpredictable and a little frenzied … but his passionate, exuberant energy always had direction and meaning and purpose. He was a beautiful, strong, magical person. He made us smile, sometimes in spite of ourselves. We couldn’t help it. That was Jonah. And then, like that snowstorm, he was gone too soon. But Jonah left behind a gorgeous ray of sunshine – beautiful memories, enduring friendships, a theatrical career that made us laugh and cry and think and feel, a brother who carries his legacy on stage and in his heart, parents and a sister who continue to keep his memory alive through incredible charitable work and beautiful written words that lift us all.

Jonah’s life was too short. But he lived it fully. I am so very grateful that I got to be a part of it, and that I continue to bask in the sunshine that he left behind.

Jill

 

P.S. Please give generously to our Autumn 2013 campaign at jonahmac.org. As always, we are ever grateful for your friendship and support.

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