In March it was announced that the New York High School Theatre Awards, formerly known as the The Gershwin Awards, would be renamed the Roger Rees Awards for Excellence in Student Performance, in memory of the late actor who died July 10, 2015, at the age of 71.
The awards, which will be hosted by actor, author and Tuck Everlasting book writer Tim Federle, will be presented May 22 at the Beacon School in New York City.
The awards were renamed for Rees “because of the breadth and depth of his body of work as a performer—onstage in musicals and plays, on television and in film, as well as offstage as a writer, director, designer and producer.”
Playbill.com asked several individuals who had close relationships with Rees, including his husband, Tony Award-winning writer Rick Elice, as well as Tony winner Chita Rivera, who co-starred with Rees in his final Broadway stage appearance The Visit, to offer a memory of how he affected their lives. In addition, Alex Timbers, who was Tony-nominated alongside Rees for Best Direction of a Play on Peter and the Starcatcher, and was mentored by the actor-director, also shared words; along with Tuck Everlasting book writer Tim Federle, who will host the Rees Awards on Sunday.
“I loved working with Roger Rees and feel all of our lives have lost a great actor and friend. He was a great example of an artist who was dedicated to his work and to sharing his expertise with young aspiring actors. That is our goal and he certainly succeeded in it. I miss him still.”
“Roger’s generosity of spirit offstage was reflected in his direction onstage. Watching him work with actors at Williamstown or on Peter and the Starcatcher, I was always struck by Roger’s attention to language and clarity of delivery. I’m certain that had something to do with his training at the RSC and also being a writer himself, but most importantly it had to do with wanting each actor to set up his or her fellow actor to succeed. If an audience couldn’t understand one line, the next actor’s response certainly wouldn’t make any sense. Storytelling becomes muddled, jokes don’t land. Roger wanted everyone to take care of each other onstage. So, for Roger, the practice of one actor handing the baton to the next, or ‘the feed’ as he described it, was paramount.”
“There is absolutely no reason why Roger Rees should have known who I was/am, but I met him through his extraordinary funny and warm husband Rick Elice, back when I was a seagull in The Little Mermaid, and Roger always knew my name on the occasion we'd randomly run into each other on the great high school cafeteria known as 8th Avenue. He was a twinkling, ageless guy who didn't quite make you feel like a star at his level so much as: he didn't really seem like a star. Not in person, anyway. And then you'd catch him on a rerun of Cheers, or see him in a play at the Roundabout, and remember he was as good as it gets. I miss him.”
“Where is Rog now? In a theater, I’m positive. Those sacred rooms where families are made every time the lights go down; where something might happen that’ll make you thank God for the day you were born. Theater was always home to Rog. He was frequently in the spotlight, but he was never a lone star; he delighted in helping others to step forward and shine. His easy, generous joy of theater – every aspect of it – was infectious and irresistible, tangible and real and right. Sharing his vast knowledge of plays and players, the insights from a fifty-year career - this was like breathing for him. And his support and enthusiasm for young talent was unconditional. He showed up everywhere, saw everything, encouraged everybody. He lived and moved beautifully in our theater world, and he made that world a wonderful home and a joyful place to work.
"Work was everything to Rog. He loved to tell students that to himself, William Shakespeare wasn’t ‘the Bard of Avon.’ He was just a guy, wearing the equivalent of jeans and sneakers, working day and night to get the right words in the right order, and maybe nudge the world a little. Dickens or Chekhov, Sondheim or Miranda, Ruhl or Vogel, Kushner or Karam – take all the fandom away, and they’re just people who work. Hard. Every day. ‘Why be finished?’ Rog would say. ‘Where’s the fun in that? Great cities are never finished. Nothing sits still, except your dog – and look how anxious he is to get on with things.’
"To Rog, perfection was a moving point, and he loved the pursuit of that point. He sprinted after it every day till the day he ran out of breath. His natural artistry, his natural humanity were utterly inspiring. As a result, he inspired whole legions of us – actors, writers, designers, directors, students, teachers – all of us raised up by Roger’s rare and great spirit. No one more than me. I have many thank you’s to make in my life, but my deepest will always be to this kind and gentle man, my beautiful husband, Roger Rees.”