Artists I admire: Kaz Reed, originator of "skit in the skit house"

In 1999, I made my first interview theatre play with my friend and performance partner Kate Nugent. The play was called fag/hag, and over the next 15 months, we performed that show in Massachusetts, Connecticut, St. Louis, New York, and Philadelphia.

At every step of the way, we were held and guided by our stage manager, Kaz Reed. Kate had worked with Kaz on a number of projects, so they already had a great relationship. Yet they welcomed me as a collaborator with open arms. Little did I know that Kaz would become a real mentor for me as I re-learned how to be a performer in a show and as I transitioned to a new life in New York City. Kaz always had our backs in rehearsal and performance (even when I managed to fall off the stage in St. Louis in a black out), and often times that meant just the right amount of humor to lighten the mood. The three of us sometimes found ourselves crying with laughter, and Kaz rocked back and forth behind her stage manager's table, her incredibly organized space within the chaotic space of creation.

Kaz originated one of the most important sentiments of my career that I use on every project I work on now. I was really nervous about doing the show. I was playing eight people, I hadn't acted in a long time, and it was the first time I was really touring with something as a co-writer and performer. Whenever I started to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, Kaz simply reminded me that it was "just another skit in the skit house."  That simple recognition that we were not curing cancer, solving world problems, or running for President reminded me that I needed to relax. I always laughed when she said it, and I've used it countless times since to lift myself out of anxiety in a creative process. I remember standing in the concert hall at the Kennedy Center, frantically working through the tech for the show that I made with the U. S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, and I managed to calm myself down with "it's just a skit in a skit house." Albeit a skit in a big-ass and important skit house, but a skit house nonetheless. Thank you, Kaz.

There are a number of other memorable Kaz-isms that make their way into my everyday vernacular or memory, but one of her other important contributions to my life came when she introduced me to the work of Pema Chodron. My transition to living in NYC had its ups and downs, and some of the downs were particularly low. When I was really struggling, Kaz recommended one of Chodron's books called When Things Fall Apart, and it gave me a lot of solace in that moment and many moments that followed.

Kaz found and practiced Shambhala Buddhism and eventually moved to Boulder, Colorado to be closer to the center there. One day Kaz explained to me the belief that death was more of a transition than an ending, and that how one lived one's life would directly affect how smooth or rough that transition would be. I don't remember all of the particulars of the conversation, but I remember that Kaz talked about working through difficult things in this part of life and that this would hopefully make for a smoother transition. Those things that we haven't worked through we have to face at the end, and those are the moments that make for a bumpy ride to the next stage. I've never forgotten that sentiment, although there are times when I've been better at practicing it than others.

Kaz moved on to the next stage on November 8 after a long illness. I had lost contact with her after that intensive 15 months, although I never forgot the lessons I learned from her, both about being an artist and being a human being. Thankfully, I got a message to her and her partner Anne Marie before she moved on, and my friend Kate was able to see her as well. I learned of Kaz's passing while I was working on a new project in Ireland, and I had the pleasure of sitting with my collaborator Jenny Macdonald and telling her stories about Kaz, realizing just how grateful I am that she entered my life and changed so many things about it. For all of those reasons, Kaz Reed is the artist I admire for this week. I hope her transition to the next stage has been smooth and filled with grace and peace.