While working on my Sunday column about the passing of Fresno actor and teacher Joyce Anabo, I received lots of great memories from readers. And I didn’t have space to be able to include them all.
But I wanted to share with you one longer recollection from Steve Torres, a former student of Ms. Anabo’s. It’s a powerful testament to the power of a mentor and a reflection of the fact that sometimes it can only take a relatively short period of time to have a major influence on someone:
A TEACHER’S IMPACT
By Steve Torres
I was one of Ms Anabo's last high school students. I signed up for Theatre I at Bullard High in Fall 2001, my sophomore year, not because I had any particular interest in theatre or acting, but because I had been told by my older sister that she was a fun (and funny) teacher.
She taught an English elective class called "Individual in Society" which was essentially a public speaking class intended for students who felt like they didn't belong to any particular, typical, high school social group. That was the class that my sister had taken a couple of years before, but, unfortunately, it wasn't offered that semester. Rather than wait a semester to sign up for that class, I signed up for theatre, because I was dying to take a class with a teacher who seemed to be passionate about their students, as had been told to me by my sister.
Without preconceived ideas about what to expect or what I wanted from the class, I walked into that theatre class a shy, awkward, misfit high schooler. Ms. Anabo was instantly welcoming, but sharply witty. She didn't use kid gloves with any of the students, regardless of their level of experience or confidence. Given my personality, anyone who knew me would have predicted that I would beg for a transfer to a different class, but something about acting, and the way she brought theatre and the craft of acting to the uninitiated, made me thirst for more. This shy kid suddenly found an outlet to burst forth from his shell.
When it came time to register for my classes for the next school year, I jumped at the chance to feed the insatiably creative appetite that had been awakened by this incredibly dedicated teacher. I remember the way she pushed for emotional truth in a student, in a simple exercise where he just kept repeating "I hate you" to her. Or when she encouraged me to do the "St. Crispin's Day" monologue from Henry V, initiating my lifelong passion for Shakespeare and classical text. She gave me a safe space to explore my individual voice, and validated it. She introduced me to a more confident version of myself.
I was disappointed when I found out she had retired from public school teaching after that first year. I found out on the first day of my second year in theatre. But by then, my love and ambition for theatre had already taken hold. The creative fire had been ignited.
The following 15 years of educational, community, and professional acting might never have happened had I not been desperate to take a class from the cool teacher. I owe so much of who I am today to Ms. Anabo. I am eternally grateful for the art she inspired in me.
I remember passing through the favorite Fresno theatre haunt, Livingstone's, running into Ms. Anabo, getting excited to tell her all of the exciting news of graduating from Fresno State in theatre, or going to grad school at Southern Methodist University for theatre, or getting my first professional casting. Sadly I had not been lucky enough to see her there in recent years to keep her updated on the other adventures I've had that were all made possible because of her.
The news of her passing has given me a great opportunity to reflect on my time in acting, and remember how grateful I am for the impact she had, however brief it was, on the course of my life. I'm so lucky to have had such a mentor in those confusing days of youth.