by Jesse Bliss
Mentorship is an integral part of developing as an artist. We can be mentored officially, through mentorship programs or by merely engaging and asking a respected professional for guidance. And there are unofficial mentors who come into our lives when we most need the encouragement of someone who’s embarked on a journey we’ve just begun. They are powerful presences who impact the course of our lives and we cherish them for as long as we can.
Writer, educator, and mentor Jesse Bliss recently lost her mentor Linda Lowry. This Claps and Cheers is Bliss’s homage to her late mentor. – Ramona Pilar, Ed.
* * *It was a typically windy, cold to-the-bone yet electric San Francisco night. I was a 20 year-old walking up Market Street around the corner from the Tenderloin District where I lived next door to a Thai restaurant. Next to that was a known location for sex solicitation. I often cruised toward the train gripping the handle of a knife. The danger in that hood was not gangs, but unpredictable drug-induced violence. I had just left Sacramento and all that was trying to keep me from my dreams, and had shown up in the Golden Gate city with nothing more than a bag and a friend, ready to discover my soul as a professional artist.
I stopped dead in my tracks and locked eyes with a fierce and glamorous middle-aged blond woman standing outside The Phoenix Theatre. I asked her what the space was.“Come inside, it’s cold out here,” she replied with twinkling eyes, giving the invitation that opened the gates of time without end.
She told me about the theater and I explained to her how theatre had saved me throughout my tumultuous childhood, that it gave me a space to be, breathe, and interpret the world. I knew it was my destiny and life’s work. Furthermore, I had been out of Sacramento only 3 weeks and narrowly escaped the one person that loved me the most, yet engaged in a lifestyle that continuously promised danger.
Ms. Lowry invited me to her twice-weekly acting class. She was a protégé of Bobby Lewis, one of the founding fathers of the Original Actor’s Studio. In that lineage of teachings, one’s students are taken as seriously as the work itself and a legion of amazingly talented actors flocked to learn from Linda.
Within in no time, she passed me Viola’s monologue from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I told her that I didn’t understand it, nor did I, in turn, like Shakespeare. She demanded I take the paper home and memorize the words. In my old-school, crowded, Tenderloin studio apartment I blazed a joint, laid my eyes and heart on words that opened a gateway to a world I’d never again want to leave.
For the next 20 years Linda guided and loved me as a mother, friend, and artistic mentor. She believed in me wholeheartedly, saw things I didn’t know were there and held space for the power she knew was in me when I felt defeated. Her support allowed me to release trauma, negative voices, and fear of pursuing my dreams. Through the work seeds of bright, fragrant flowers were planted in its place along with a deep knowing that all was possible.
Linda passed only recently and my heart is shattered. It is awe-inspiring she believed in a kid on a street corner and invested her strength, knowledge and energy which, in turn, to no exaggeration, saved my life. Having never known a love like that, I soared even through every challenge life kicked down. Her love and teachings were and are emblazoned in my bones through eternity.