Inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, August 7, 2010.
Induction Speech by Annie Pesch
Fran Pesch has always loved the theatre. Growing up, she played the records of all of the big musicals and dreamed of being the next Doris Day. As a student, she had the opportunity to perform in one of the country's first collegiate productions of My Fair Lady. But soon after graduation, she gave up performing to start a family.
As a Girl Scout leader, Fran got back in touch with her theatrical roots by directing several troops in scenes and Christmas shows. New York performer, Susan Blackwell's life changed forever after Fran directed her in her first musical. After the performance, Susan recalls, "I was standing in the dressing room with my mom and dad, and Fran Pesch came in and pretended to put her adult hands over my eight-year-old ears and said to my parents in her frank, Fran Pesch-y way, 'Susan is really talented. But don't tell her I said so. Her head might swell'...I remember this moment like it happened yesterday...It changed the course of my life. I will never forget it...When I made my Broadway debut, lots of fans and fabulous, fancy people came to visit me at the stage door. But one of my very favorite visitors was Fran Pesch. Because I got tell anyone within shouting distance of the Lyceum Theatre about how Fran Pesch blew my third-grade mind and opened my eyes to the possibility of what could be."
When my sister began performing in high school productions, Fran became an active participant--beginning as an audience member and soon becoming the school's Drama Director. Over her ten years as Drama Director, Fran took a school that did one show a year and created an extracurricular program that ran year round. Productions included plays, musicals, an evening of one-acts, and performances at the OTA play festival -– not to mention teaching theatre games during the "off-season". In 1993, she directed the play that was selected at the state OTA high school play festival to represent secondary education theatre in Ohio. It was during this time that Fran started to focus on ways to give back to the community artistically. She and her students devoted their time to creating their own touring children’s theatre and providing entertainment for outside organizations. She also created and produced an annual Alumni-Faculty-Student musical review, which raised money for a different non-profit organization each year. In 1999, Fran assembled a team to compete at Project Outreach, and they took the first place Gold Award. That year, she also served as an acting consultant to the state Mock Trial teams.
Fran began her involvement in the Dayton theatre scene at the Dayton Playhouse. In 1989, she began working on sets at the Playhouse and, by the end of the season, appeared in her first show there, South Pacific. Since that time Fran has had many memorable performances, including "Agnes" in I Do, I Do; "Emma Goldman" in Assassins; and -- a personal favorite of both of ours -- when she played my mother, "Jane", in the FutureFest-winning play, Full Bloom. And yes, she also recently performed for the first time in seven years as "Sissy Hickey" in this summer's Sordid Lives. In 1991, Fran organized a benefit performance of Nunsense, featuring Tina McPhearson & Jean Howat Berry. She appeared in that production and has had the opportunity to declare herself "Holier Than Thou" as "Sr. Hubert" at three different theatres since then. Of her performance as "Liz Morden" in Our Country's Good at the Dayton Theatre Guild -– former Dayton theatre actor, David Mathieu, found her "captivating as a bitter exiled convict and moving as her character contemplated her impending execution."
David also remembers being directed by Fran in the first play ever produced at FutureFest and how she went above and beyond her duties as director. "Fran coped with a difficult script that underwent a massive first act rewrite two weeks before opening, and challenged me and my co-star (Rhonda) to find the maturity and depth of the play’s seemingly shallow characters. Fran also took it upon herself to find a series of exercises for me to work on, in order to smooth out a lifelong lisp, one that I thought I would never cure but subsequently did…It has been a blessing to have worked with her, and she is more than deserving of her accolades."
One thing that I love about working with her is that, being a performer herself, she is truly an actors' director. Also, she often casts people that she has never worked with before. I remember, for The Laramie Project, it was her first time directing most of the actors -- several of whom were new to the Dayton theatre community. Yet, her direction helped to create a feeling of ensemble among a large group of strangers in a very short time.
Now, anyone who has been directed by Fran before knows she has trouble reading the notes she takes, even in the best lighting. For example: She asks, "What does this say, 'Aim, wet tox 'til often the line'?"
I offer to decipher, "Here, let me see. It says, 'Aim, wet to cross 'til often the line –- Annie, wait to cross 'til after the line'!" She figures it out, "Oh, yeah! Annie, wait to cross until after the line!"
Even though performing and directing were her main passions, Fran wanted to do more. She wanted to reach out to a group of people that was underserviced theatrically. This inspired her to create Dayton's only senior theatre company, Young at Heart Players, ten years ago. One of the main goals of Young at Heart is to dispel the myths of ageism. Frequently using intergenerational casting, Young at Heart Players has offered theatre games, performances for senior organizations, and full productions -- including Waiting in the Wings, Driving Miss Daisy, and, most recently, The Gin Game. Fran runs every aspect of Young at Heart: selecting performance venues, publicity, programs, tickets, front of house, all design elements, etc.
In fact, when it comes to Dayton theatre, Fran has done it all. For two years, she served as the Interim Theatre Manager and ran the box office at the Dayton Playhouse. She is a Lifetime Member of the Dayton Playhouse. In 2005, she was honored as their Volunteer of the Year. She has received multiple DayTony awards for directing, as well as set design, sound, and properties. She currently serves as the Acting Coach at UD School of Law. She is a Board member at the Dayton Theatre Guild, and FutureFest Program Director for the last two years, as well as Playreading Co-chair. She reads about 200 plays each year as a member of the Guild & FutureFest playreading committees. She serves as the statistician for the DayTonys and is in charge of reservations for the Hall of Fame Gala. Fran has worked behind the scenes on props, sets, costumes, sound design, being a dresser; worked as a speech coach, teacher, dialect coach, assistant director, stage manager, house manager, usher, box office manager, dramaturg; and, finally, audience member! Of course, I’m sure I've forgotten something.
Since Fran began her involvement in Dayton theatre over twenty years ago, she has worked at over fifteen theatres in the Miami Valley. She has worked at all levels -– pre-school, grade school, high school, community, collegiate, and professionally. For her countless hours of service and unending devotion to the theatre community, I am honored to induct my mom, Fran Pesch, into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame.