In addition, of course, as faculty members we were also both directly involved in the day-to-day business of running the Theatre Program as part of the Dept. of Speech and Theatre Arts which would eventually be split into the School of Stage And Screen in the Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts and the Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Sciences. On top of that, our offices were in close proximity in Stillwell for much of that time. Obviously, we spent a good deal of time together.
Still, I have to admit that we were never what I would call close friends. I suspect that was because we spent so much of our working lives together, we were not excited by at the prospect of “hanging out” together in the time we spent away from professional activities. We both had relatively young children of differing ages and lived “across town” from each other, so our wives didn’t really know each other and we ran in somewhat different social circles, even in the small Sylva/Cullowhee society.
Still, Steve and I were colleagues. Perhaps I am making more of that term than it deserves, but it means something to me. Maybe it was more true because we were both in Theatre. Maybe it was because we both felt quite passionately about the theatre, especially theatre education, as more of a “calling” than just a job. I can’t explain it very well, I know, but when I heard of his passing from my daughter, Maggi (who was in the chorus of our production of Fiddler on the Roof in 1993), who had seen a posting by Steve’s daughter, Maribeth, on Facebook (which I have never joined, but that’s another story), I was somewhat stunned. How could this be? Of course, it didn’t take me long to realize that I’m not as young as I used to be and I’ve reached the age when the passing of people I know really isn’t all that uncommon. Still, that doesn’t make it easier to accept, especially with someone who was such a part of one’s life.
Yes, it’s true that Steve and I didn’t always agree about some things. Yes, I thought he placed excessive demands on our students at times, especially relating to productions. He pushed me hard often, and, sometimes, I pushed back. But I think that I always knew that what he wanted was really what I wanted, too. He wanted each performance of each production to be the best it could possibly be, and he was as hard on himself as he was on others. This didn’t always make him lovable, but we did some pretty damn good work together. Much of my best work as a designer/technician was done on productions that Steve directed. And my time working with him gave me a lot of food for thought for those occasions when I got the chance to direct my own productions.
Is my life better because of Steve? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s worse. I do know that it wouldn’t have been the same without his influence. As in every relationship, we had our ups and downs. But, looking back, I don’t think I’d change things. Steve helped make me better at what I did. I’d like to think that I had a positive influence on the work we did together. All in all, I’ll miss him, probably more than he would have ever thought. I’m glad that I retired before this happened. Even if we weren’t working together, it would have been harder to continue. Perhaps the most honest thing I can say about Steve comes from Hamlet: “He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.” ‘Nuf said.
Steve’s daughter, Maribeth, has set up a Gofundme account to raise money towards the creation of a Stephen Michael Ayers Memorial Scholarship with Claire Eye (a former student of ours and currently the Department Head of WCU’s School of Stage and Screen). That account is reachable at:
I think this is a worthy way to remember a good man. I would encourage folks to contribute.
I’ll be back in a week, or two, when I can get my head together to write something more usual. In the meantime,
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic; capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” ―Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows