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I owe much to Dan Gerould. When I started at CUNY I had the great fortune to work as the Managing Editor of his journal Slavic and East European Performance (SEEP). I honestly was a bit over my head back in those days, uncertain about entering into academic waters, and Dan’s complete trust that I could do this job (and write a dissertation) propelled me through the years to come. Dan and I hit it off immediately—he liked my work ethic and I liked his wit—and he became my PhD advisor, my mentor, my champion, and my friend.
Dan always eagerly engaged with my interests (he took on cyborgs with gusto and inspired me to consider their lineages through the figure of the Golem, and the works of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Čapek, Hoffmann), and his matter-of-factness that I would do this dissertation (and then book) made me also understand that I could, and would—there just was never a question with Dan behind me. I learned my skills in editing and writing from Dan, the importance of adding accents in many Slavic languages, for one! But more importantly, he taught me how to communicate complicated ideas clearly through writing. Unfortunately, I am struggling now to communicate the very complex feelings I have about this great, funny, imaginative scholar, whose classes will forever be etched in my mind, whose dedication to the artistic world around the topic made me see a network of intersecting ideas, and whose attention to detail always captivated the imagination. Just read through his descriptions of the theorists in his Theatre/Theory/Theatre to know what I mean . . . I’ll try my hand: “Daniel Gerould was a tall, thin gentleman of a scholar who frequently sported a signature bow-tie, always had a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a welcoming smile, and who dazzled minds with details others had long forgotten . . .” Alas, I’m afraid mine is no match for Dan’s memorable prose!
Only a few years ago, Dan was invited to London to deliver a keynote on Witkiewicz, and I visited him where he was staying, at the home of his old friend, Victor Lownes, with Josh Abrams and my daughter Zeena, whom Dan has known since she was just turning one. Dan shared remarkable stories about his youth and stories about Lownes, about his life and their adventures; we discussed books and theatre, Zeena’s interests, our cats (always cats), and my recent writing about animals, before going on to the Tate Modern Futurist exhibit. It was a lovely day together. The next week he sent me a reading list he’d compiled for Zeena, of animal-themed plays and books he thought she might like. One of them was his translation of Konstanty Gałczyński’s, The Little Theatre of the Green Goose, of which we received a copy in the post some weeks later. For Dan, here is a little segment from the “Play in Prose and Verse called ‘When Orpheus Played’”:
The way he plays affects us, too,
Friend Lion, the same as it does you.
SCANDALMONGERING OLD HAG:
Maestro Orpheus, your art
Finds its way straight to the heart.
(Licks Orpheus’ feet and undergoes a spiritual rebirth.)
I can’t capture the sadness I feel over this loss—for all of us inspired and taught by him, for his other mentees and students just beginning to know his wisdom, humor, and charm, and for his family, especially for his incredible wife and friend Jadwiga, who was truly his other half. I saw him most recently in January. I stopped by CUNY to see him and found him there working, meeting with his current students, and busy with ongoing projects. He welcomed me into his Segal Center office where we chatted about life, family, London, cats, books, and theatre. His eclectic stacks of books captured my interests as they always did, and we laughed and just enjoyed each other’s company, as we always have. I feel so lucky to have known Dan Gerould. This is a great loss for us all.