Last night, a large crowd gathered at Seattle Repertory Theater to memorialize/celebrate the life of Andrea Allen.
Most of the folks in attendance were theater people, from her early years as artistic director of Annex Theater to her recent Seattle Rep years, and some family members, including her mother and brothers who'd flown out from the east coast. In his opening remarks, Fr. Jack Bentz—a Jesuit priest and friend of the Seattle theater community—observed that grief is an intensely personal thing and that it was both courageous and generous of Andrea's family and close friends to invite in the larger theater community for an evening.
Playwright Keri Healey wrote a moving tribute to Andrea for the evening's program, crediting her with being a decades-long friend and champion, and a source of early encouragement and critique when she first began to write plays.
That theme kept returning last night: Though Andrea wasn't a hugely public person who craved the spotlight, she nurtured and supported many, many theater talents in Seattle, from the high-school playwrights she has taught to the professional playwrights, directors, and actors who were at the Rep last night.
And, based on things people said from the stage, Andrea's style of nurturing was lovingly tough. A fellow teacher read a few emails Andrea had written over the years to her student-playwrights. One of her recurring pieces of advice: "Nail your butt to your seat, set a timer, and start writing. I can't help you if you don't start writing. Who loves you? I do."
Another seemingly representative story, this one from one of Andrea's brothers, said she commemorated her nephew's success with business school by sending him a suitcase that said "corporate tool," a nice necktie, and a book about Machiavelli.
I wasn't able to stay for the whole program—I had to get to a show at On the Boards—and that was perhaps fitting. Though I'd seen plays Andrea had directed, and know many of the artists she's supported over the years, I never really knew her myself.
But the evening was a beautiful and moving moment of community grieving and celebration. There were video and slide tributes, performances of plays she wrote and directed over the years, music (including a song by Chris Jeffries) and an alternating chorus of laughing and sniffling in the theater.