“But that a joy past joy calls out on me,
It were a grief, so brief to part with thee: farewell.”
Romeo & Juliet, III.3
It is with immense sadness, and no small measure of anger, that I share the news (for those of you who haven’t already heard) that our great friend and colleague Glen Thompson has departed from this world.
Glen, as anyone who had the pleasure of knowing him will attest, was so young, so vital and healthy, so essentially good that there is no point in trying to rationalize or contextualize his death. It serves as a reminder that the universe in which we exist is a cold, meaningless vacuum of chaos and disorder but for the warmth, meaning, purpose and order with which we are able to fill it through our relationships with one another.
To dwell on the sense of grief and outrage which the injustice of Glen’s death can’t help but provoke is to stand at the slippery edge of a black, bottomless chasm and peer in. Far better to remember – to share and celebrate – the sense of meaning, purpose and joy with which he lived his life.
I first met Glen 18 years ago when we worked together on a PTE touring production of A Prairie Boy’s Winter. Glen played ‘William’: the gentle, thoughtful, infinitely patient older brother of the selfish, impulsive, impetuous ‘John’, played by me. At first glance, this might smack of typecasting, but for the one detail of William’s character which Glen always considered the greatest acting challenge of his career: he had to speak the line “I didn’t really like hockey”. I have far more fond memories of Glen from that tour than space will allow, but I will say that it didn’t take long to realize that he was among the most decent, reliable, hard-working, befuddling and fun-loving people I would ever know. Back in those days, we didn’t use cell phones, but instead relied on CB radio for communication between the two touring vehicles. I recall vividly that, as a fan of ‘The Simpsons’, Glen’s first transmission upon leaving city limits was “Baby to Marge! Baby to Marge! Wah! Wah!”.
That tour was the launch of Glen’s career as a true road warrior: he toured 3 times for PTE and 4 times for SIR, and never seemed to tire of it. 3 of his tours for SIR were with Stripped-Down Romeo & Juliet in the roles of ‘Benvolio’, ‘Capulet’, & ‘Friar Laurence’, a track which he also played when the show was mounted at the Fringe in 2011. Each of these roles brought out aspects of Glen’s own personality in a way that was so genuine, yet so distinct – they were all very different, and they were all ‘totally Glen’. When Benvolio earnestly and urgently tried to stop Mercutio from fighting, or make Romeo forget about Rosaline, or broke the news of Juliet’s apparent death, you saw ‘good old Glen’ being the best friend a friend could ask for. When the Friar told us about the wonders of natural remedies, or let Romeo have it for threatening suicide, or tried get Juliet to leave her dead husband, you saw Glen the philosophical pragmatist, struggling to comprehend the illogical emotional extremes of ordinary mortals which (blessedly, like some Zen master) seemed for the most part to elude him. Then again, to watch his Capulet ping-pong between jolly good humour, despair, and insensate rage was to realize that perhaps Glen was more in touch with the flaring passions of the human heart than was his wont to let on.
This brings me to another specific anecdote, one out hundreds, which offers an example of how smart, clever, and quick on his feet Glen could be, particularly when on stage. We were in the throes of the well-known scene in which Juliet has refused to wed Paris, and Capulet urges in the strongest terms available that she reconsider. Glen had just come to the end of a long list of possible fates that will befall Juliet if she defies him: “…hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, for by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, nor what is mine shall never do thee good…”. At that precise moment, he was interrupted by a lengthy school buzzer but, rather than holding until it was over, Glen kept his mouth moving, creating the impression that the epithets he continued to hurl were so offensive they had to be ‘bleeped out’ by the censoring buzzer. Of course everyone in the gymnasium (except Glen) exploded into laughter, including the three other actors onstage, whom he immediately abandoned with his exit line. This, of course, was not the only time Glen was responsible for generating inappropriate laughter onstage, and he was his own victim as often as not.
It was also SIR’s privilege to have had Glen play ‘Demetrius’, ‘Bottom’ & ‘Puck’ in our first tour of A Stripped-Down Midsummer Night’s Dream. Once again, Glen managed to tap into aspects of his own unique personality for all three roles: Demetrius’ frustration with women; Puck’s anarchic sense mirth and mischief; and, of course, the maddening, insistent, glad-handed and good-hearted ‘actor as everyman’ Bottom, who is no more (and no certainly no less) put off by the forcible seduction of a Fairy Queen than by the notion that small-minded typecasting should prevent him from playing ‘Pyramus’, ‘Thisby’ and ‘the Lion’ too!
Glen was able to participate in two SIR Main Stage productions: The Merry Wives of Windsor in 2010 and Henry V in 2012. It was my great fortune to direct him as ‘Master Ford’ in the former, and he was just as outrageously funny playing out Ford’s mad jealousy, and his ridiculous alter ego ‘Master Brook’ (disguised in an eight gallon hat, broad Texan accent, and a preposterously fake, loosely adhered moustache) as I could have wished. To my mind, there are few things as inherently comical to me as Glen trying to be taken seriously in a silly situation – there was something in the way he set his jaw, combined with a confused look in his eyes that makes me laugh and weep just to think of it.
In Henry V he managed to bring military precision, wisdom and dignity to the role of ‘Exeter’, with the same apparent ease with which he instilled a touching blend of wistful tragedy and outlandish buffoonery in ‘Corporal Nym’. He seemed able to maintain complete command over his facial hair, dictating a different effect from the same moustache depending on what each character required of it.
Of course, Glen appeared in many plays for many different companies, as well as appearing in a number of movies as both an actor and a stunt performer. Among his claims to fame were appearing with a young Russell Crowe in For The Moment, and driving a motorcycle into a Santa Claus parade float in Beethoven’s Christmas.
And of course, beyond his work as an actor, Glen was simply an exceptional human being, and a very close friend of mine, as he was to an astonishing number of people. He was an accomplished house-sitter – so responsible, considerate and careful that it made you question whether he had ever actually been there at all. He was an athlete, who ran marathons and loved to play hockey EXACTLY as much as he loved to act. He was the beloved member of a close, supportive family.
He was a sharing, loving, giving, accepting member of a wide range of communities – the sort of person who helps bring meaning, purpose, and joy to the lives of everyone he knew. And although I am (we are) filled with grief and shock over how little time we were given to spend with him, I feel a sense of joy (past joy) in having had him in my (our) life at all, and I look forward to sharing and celebrating that time, with all of you, in the time that we have together.