“Soon after the death of Rabbi Moshe, Rabbi Mendel of Kutsk asked one of his disciples, ‘What was most important to your teacher?’ The disciple thought and then replied, ‘Whatever he happened to be doing at the moment.’”
What the renowned Canadian director John Hirsch happened to be doing on March 1, 1988 included reading a series of Hasidic stories like this one to a group of student designers and directors at Yale. In previous years Hirsch had come to New Haven to lead - with host Ming Cho Lee's hospitable assistance - three-week explorations of Pericles and King Lear. This time the focus was to be on Hirsch's own adaptation of the classic Yiddish play The Dybbuk, and the students would find themselves called to a consideration of the spiritual side of human life.
For this first two-hour session John Hirsch talked about his life in art; it was one of the things he did best. What follows is an edited version of the first hour. The vivid narratives grounded in intensely emotional memory, the catholicity of what drew this artist's observant eye and eager spirit, the affirmation of theatre's high meaning: all characterize the man.
John Hirsch died of AIDS on August 1, 1989. In retrospect this March 1 meeting becomes a remarkably vital meditation on death. It looks as if the artist's antenna Hirsch speaks about was working that day, taking him where it was useful for him to go.