Inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, August 3, 2013.
Good evening! My name is Jane Lane, and I represent the staff of Epiphany Lutheran Church. I am the Director of Care of Members and very proud and honored to tell you that Kay Frances Wean was my co-worker and my very BEST FRIEND!
I have been tasked with justifying why Kay deserves to be inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame in 3-5 minutes. It can't be done! But, here's my attempt.
Almost two decades ago, the children of Epiphany had been presenting the same nice, but rather ordinary, predictable Christmas play year after year. Various 5th graders narrated the same script with a Mary, a Joseph, and the 3 Wise Men. All of the other boys were shepherds and all of the other girls were angels who sang traditional Christmas hymns.
After my BEST FRIEND, who had just moved back to Dayton from Chicago where she had been heavily involved in theatre there, saw this plain, simplistic version of the Christmas Story, she asked if she could have the opportunity to produce a more creative musical presentation of that wonderful Story. I thought to myself, "Yeah, right! How's she going to pull that off?"
Well, pull it off she did year after year after year!
After an amazing Children's Christmas Musical, Kay was "called" to serve as a lay ministry leader at Epiphany. From then on, everything she coordinated or directed at the church was done in Christ's dramatic love!
It was vitally important to Kay that all children were welcome to participate. No child was ever left out or excluded. If there were more children than roles, my BEST FRIEND double-cast, or wrote in additional roles so that there was a part for everyone to play. Children learned the importance of good diction. They learned "theatrical" terms like up stage and down stage. They learned the value of working together for a common goal.
Now a few of our kids have made it professionally, but every single child who participated in a Christmas Musical that Kay directed, learned poise, self-confidence, and stage presence that to this day serves them well.
My BEST FRIEND possessed a keen perception of people, especially children. She could recognize potential in them that they couldn't even begin to imagine in themselves. I always loved asking her who was impressing her during the rehearsals for the Christmas musical. She delighted in reporting the progress that so-and-so was making. A child's growth and transformation was one of her greatest rewards.
One such child was Johnnie. When Johnnie was quite young he played the part of a peasant boy who carried a bundle of wood in "Good King Wenceslas." Johnnie's was a non-speaking part. When the performance ended Kay told me that Johnnie's father, Charlie, had approached her and told her how proud he was of his little boy who had a lisp. He wondered if Johnnie might ever be able to secure a role with a small speaking part. Charlie died way too young of a heart attack and he never got to see his little boy grown-up, playing the lead role in one of Epiphany's Christmas musicals. To quote Johnnie, "Mrs. Wean gave me such a tremendous feeling of place and belonging. My childhood was so greatly shaped by her tremendous capabilities and talent. I learned from her that God and Love are in every story told – somewhere from Annie to Oklahoma."
My BEST FRIEND directed 17 Children's Christmas Musicals at Epiphany. But that was only a part of the vision she had for the Drama Ministry at the church. She also directed 17 main-stage summer musicals, working with both adults and children. She built the drama ministry at Epiphany to one which is highly regarded, respected, and admired throughout the wider community.
Besides summer and Christmas musicals, Kay authored and directed a Palm Sunday drama which remains a favorite with our congregation. It even included a live donkey! She also directed stewardship skits and the Lenten dramas Godspell and Narnia. She even found time to author a song, Our Child, God's Child, which is used at Baptisms and Confirmation services.
My BEST FRIEND was able to showcase her own acting talents and abilities in several local community theater productions over the years. She gave an adorable performance as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, and splendidly portrayed the driven Mama Rose in Gypsy. She played the long suffering wife, Golde, in Fiddler on the Roof, and was a Blackburn award winner for her role as Bella in Lost in Yonkers. She even played "God" at the Dayton Theatre Guild!
Kay was diagnosed with leukemia in May of 2010, but the chemotherapy did not stop her from directing the summer musical, Seussical, for which she received a DayTony. She battled long and hard, but God called her home to be with Him on June 24, 2011, at the age of 56. Kay impacted countless lives as evidenced by the hundreds of people who attended her calling hours and funeral. If ever there was a glorious celebration of life, it was Kay's!!!
I am quite confident that Kay Frances Wean is happily smiling down on all of us tonight, encouraging us to follow her example of doing everything in Christ's dramatic love! God bless you, BEST FRIEND!
-- Jane Lane
Many of you first knew Kay as Kay Frances. That was her was her Chicago stage name. But the focus on her tonight would have embarrassed her because she always pointed to others and to the gifts of others, lifting up others, making sure that they would have the spotlight for their hard work.
In casting a show, her goal was for you to see your God given gifts -- gifts that she already saw -– and CLAIM them -- "no matter how big or how small" according to Seussical -- and then perfect and present them in just the right spot in the show. In that way, your own light could shine. Her favorite phrase for those new to theatre -- trying out for the first time -- was: "I know I can get them where they need to be!"
She was determined that everyone fall in love with theatre –- as she had done. After all, isn't that who theatre people are – great lovers sharing their love with the world?
Therefore, for Kay, everyone belonged in theatre. There was a place for everyone -- first in Kay's heart, and then, in the show. And so she cast everybody.
For Kay, that process of falling in love began the minute the child was out of diapers! "OK, out of diapers? Good! Now you are on stage!" Of course that rule might become a problem for some of us old farts getting on stage -- but thank God for depends -– for the show must go on!
My favorite picture of her directing was holding a crying lamb on her hip while continuing to direct the rest of the cast!
The late great artistic director of the Human Race, Marsha Hannah, once wrote a 3 page critique of one of Kay's favorite musicals, The Wizard of OZ, which began with these words: "I would much rather see a mediocre straight play than a musical any day!" Kay gasped and said, "O Boy!" But then, what followed was 3 pages of support and generosity from Marsha. Kay's favorite section was Marsha commenting on the Munchkins. Marsha wrote, "You had so many children on stage, but they all paid attention, followed the action, and remained in character. They even moved when they should. There was not a clinker in the bunch!"
Russell Florence mentioned, "I always enjoyed spotting Kay in the dark sitting in the rear of the auditorium meticulously watching her vision come alive every year." Well Russell, there would not be much enjoyment if you had actually sat right next to her. Every time somebody screwed up on stage, she would grab the leg of the person sitting next to her in a claw hold to prevent herself from screaming, "What are you doing up there?" The poor producer could testify to the injuries sustained while sitting next to Kay.
But Kay's own love of theatre impelled her to be a consummate student of theatre. She loved all of you and learned from you all, her colleagues and fellow lovers, for you were her co-conspirators Unfortunately, as a perpetual student of theatre she never could just enjoy the show. She worked every show -– her own and everyone else's, taking notes for staging future productions. Even on date nights, when she was not even remotely connected to the show, whenever something screwy happened onstage, down came her hand with a death grip on my leg! You have no idea of how that absolutely kills any romantic inclinations!
However, once she chose a show, she became a train -- an unstoppable force that would not take "no", "we can't", "it's too hard" -- for answers. I called it, "The Kay Train." And if you agreed to do the show, it was "All Aboard! Kay Train departing in 3 seconds!"
She had other partners in crime -– other co-conspirators passionate about theatre -- people like Pastor Larry Hoffsis who had a vision of God's gift of theatre to the church, and Jane Lane -- her rock of support -- who pushed the Kay Train with her.
But her creative partner in crime was Bruce Brown. Kay Frances and Bruce Brown truly conspired together so that the set design and stage could accommodate a massive cast. And it was massive -- because everyone who tried out got a part! And Bruce, you were the only one who ever told her, "Kay, leave it alone, it will be fine when I'm through! Just go away and do what you need to do!" Not even her husband could get away with that!
So Bruce, I am so glad you have continued to conspire with lights out, creative, and unusual set designs that knock our socks off, especially the latest work of art -- that wonderful stage in the round -- for Joseph.
But the greatest productions of Kay are sitting here. Kandis and Megan, you both embody Kay's voice, her thoughts, her vision, her passion and love of theatre. And she was so proud of you -- especially when you got out of diapers and on to that first production! In taking you with her to her rehearsals, you too, fell in love. And it's been an honor to be your dad.
Kay's journey with us was way too short. But God was so good to give us this great lover of God, people, and theatre.
So, I am humbled to accept this wonderful honor from the people she loved and respected, who shared her passion, her joy, and her love of theatre.
Kay Frances, this one is for you ... muches muches.
-- Ronald Wean