I started my undergraduate studies at New York University in 1987.
I was in the Drama program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts – and was in conservatory at the Circle In The Square Studio – towards my bachelor of fine arts in stage acting.
I remember thinking at the time that “Wow, there are like 10,000 people in my graduating class! I am not going to bother going to graduation—that will just be a zoo!”
While there were indeed thousands of of students in the overall graduating class (officially NYU’s class of 1991), at NYU, there’s actually a much more intimate sense of community; the graduating “class” is broken out into schools (e.g. TSOA), and then the schools are broken out by majors (e.g. UGDRAMA), and then the majors are distinguished further (in the case of UGDrama) by studio.
So – in fact – there were only about 18 kids in my real “class” that first year – and over the four years of my UGDrama tenure – just about 50 students in the entire Circle program at any given time.
Just 50 students, and one of those fellow students (in 1987/88 & 1988/89, Circle In The Square Studio) was Philip Seymour Hoffman.
To say that for me his death “hit home” is an understatement; the past two days have been an emotional roller coaster!
It’s not that Phil and I were “close” 25 years ago (although we did live in the same dorm for a time, did have classes together, did share the same ratty old couches in the dark and cold student break-room, did say “hello” as we passed in the halls…), but his unexpected death really reminded me how important community is…
While the form and definition of “community” may have changed dramatically over the past 25 years – with the advent of the Internet (and the resultant ease of communication with people physically spread all over the world), I am so thankful that my community from Tisch Drama 25 years ago has unexpectedly come to play a key role in my life in recent years (Thank you, Facebook!)
I spent my first two years at Circle and then in 1989 (the same year Phil graduated) I moved on to the Experimental Theater Wing (ETW) and studied in Paris; from there I did an internship in TriBeCa at HOME for Contemporary Theater and Art, graduating NYU early – in December of 1990 before moving west to California.
At the time, of course, I never could have imagined that 20 years later I would have four sons—let alone that two would be poisoned—and I definitely never would have imagined the significant role my old friends—and even acquaintances—from NYU would play in helping me to—ironically— make a film in an effort to “change the world” and protect children 25 years later!
- Anne-Liese (from Circle and ETW) was one of the inspirations for the launch of my advocacy work. We stayed in touch after graduation since she also moved west. She then moved back home to New Orleans – and subsequently lost everything in Katrina. As I was doing what I could to help her recover from her losses following Katrina in October of 2005, she was actually one of the very first people to learn that my boys had been poisoned. I had been giving her advice on her loss (we had had a similar experience having been through a total-loss of our home in a fire in 2002) and then the situation was unexpectedly flipped as she started offering me advice and resources for our situation. In 2008 A.L. invited me to tell my story at Eve Ensler’s V-Day event at the SuperDome. (I also knew Eve from my NYU Days -as we both worked at HOME at the same time.) This was my first big advocacy & outreach event, when I was pregnant with Charlie. Visiting A.L. in New Orleans I was inspired (and horrified) by the level of lead-contamination still present there post-Katrina and that started me on the path to expose the issue in a bigger way, by making a film. Years later – A.L. then let me stay at her home in New Orleans when we filmed, welcoming my family and our crew and helping to coordinate our visits.
- Rachel (from Circle & ETW Paris) invited her friends and hosted a focus-group screening of MisLEAD in Cape Cod last year.
- Rohana (from ETW / Paris) hosted a focus-group screening at her home in Brooklyn last year. [And in a twist of fate, Rohana’s daughter was also lead-poisoned; I had helped her a bit with some advice years ago – when her nanny had concerns about her child being exposed, but I hadn’t really connected the dots about her own daughter’s poisoning until I shared the film with her last year.] Rohana’s husband, Sean is a voice actor and – amazingly – does sound finishing on films for a living and has offered to help us with the sound finishing for MisLEAD when we are done (another “random miracle”!)
- Justin became an award winning documentary film writer editor—who I had completely forgot I had met in Paris, but had stayed in touch with Rohana—and he recently watched our current cut of MisLEAD and gave feedback and suggested ideas.
- Alix (from Circle) and I have stayed in touch over the years. We reconnected over bicycles, when her father was ill and looking for a lighter bike to get around more easily (my husband is a bicycle designer!) A few months ago Alix also met me for coffee in Los Angeles. She was very supportive and said she is excited to come see the L.A. premier of the film.
- I recently ran into former classmate Chandra W. at a Tisch Alumni event in Los Angeles and she promised to watch the film and do what she can to help
- Shawn Michael (a classmate who I knew only in passing back in our school days) helped me connect with his friend from grade-school – Dana -[aka Queen Latifah] who promised – when I met her in July and mentioned that I knew Shawn – that she would take a look at the film and do what she could.
- And so many others; who have pledged, tweeted, shared my links, sent friends my way and done so much more to support my work and my film…
Thank you so much each of you!
Each time I have unexpectedly seen one of these friends in a movie or on T.V. I am so thrilled for their success – like it was my own:
- Alix on Northern Exposure and in Blood Work with Clint Eastwood
- Michelle in Bones (! – wow!)
- Wendy on those ads for Sprint (it was Sprint, right Wendy?)
- Jesse on Law and Order (amazing, of course!)
- Paige on the George Carlin Show (! super-wow!)
- John (L.) – (from HOME) in Ice Age (I’m a mother of young kids, remember!)—and of course all the other amazing work he has done!
While some of our friends and classmates from back then have gone on to do fantastic things in the world of theater, television and film (Phil, Jesse, Chandra, John, Eve and others) many of us have folded our experience into the fabric of our lives and used what we learned at Tisch on other paths (I never expected to do fundraising and database design for nonprofits or to direct a social-justice/environment focused documentary film—that’s for sure!)
Regardless of what direction we went, or how close we stayed over the years, it still feels like we were all a family, a family with shared hopes and dreams and goals. I am so appreciative of the opportunity I had to be part of that family, and so sad to have lost one of our own this week. So very sad.
While this has been said over and over again by so many in the wake of Phil’s death – appreciate what you have; tell your friends you love them; reconnect with others you have may have lost touch with. These people make up the fabric of your life and you never know when or how they may resurface and what strength and support you will be able to provide each other. Don’t wait on this—you really never know when that opportunity may slip away…forever; seize the moment!
Thank you friends.