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The BeCause Project: Rusty DeWees, aka "The Logger" 

I'm a performer because of Robert R. Ringer.

The Vermont Children’s Trust Foundation supports statewide prevention programs for children and families to help give all kids a fair chance at success.

The Because Project asks Vermonters to share their stories about people and experiences that have shaped their lives, especially during their formative years — stories that may inspire others to get involved. Because together we can all make a difference.

Because when I was 24, Robert Ringer cast me in my first nonmusical as Tilden in the Vermont Repertory Theater's production of Sam Shepard's A Buried Child. The part, play, his direction and I fit together perfectly. I fell hard.

Because he revived the rehearsal/performance space in Fort Ethan Allen that we called the Chapel, providing plaster and paint, duct tape, cleanser, a mop, brooms, hammers, and a cat's paw — and elbow grease, curiosity and passion.

Because he rented a dinged-up, loud, smelly, unreliable plug-in Salamander heater for the Chapel. A quarter century later, I can still smell it.

Because his rehearsals started ahead of schedule and ran late.

Because he looked like a play director (think Foster Brooks not in character).

Because he had a pet monkey.

Because he taught at Stowe Prep School back in the day when it wasn't cool to teach at a prep school.

Because he most always wore running sneaks, cords, a heavy black turtleneck and glasses that, when not set near the end of his nose, hung from a dime-store chain just below his neck.

Because he didn't direct when he directed.

Because during rehearsals, he'd often not watch the action. Instead, he'd sidestep gingerly, a few feet left, a few right, over and over, eyes closed, listening.

Because he allowed questions to answer themselves.

Because you welcomed his notes.

Because for him, the most important thing wasn't having fun.

Because for him, theater wasn't magic.

Because for him, theater was work.

Because his theater paid.

Because as you played, you'd hear his polite, mostly unsuccessful attempts to quell laughter.

Because during bows, you'd see — way back left in the balcony — his unmistakable silhouette clapping and raising a hand to his face to wipe tears.

Because post-show, his appreciation for the work completed was sincere and tender, but only subtly on display.

Because one day he told me about David Budbill's Judevine, which inspired "The Logger." "There's this play," he said. "It's like a Vermonter's Our Town. You'd be good in it."

Because, not too old, he died in a care home, a few months after my dad. Same care home as my dad. Six rooms separated them.

Because his wife and daughter and I are still close.

Because he'd often say, "I worked a lot with this great director who would always..." And I knew, in the future, I'd reference him that way.

Because more than two decades ago, working in Robert Ringer-directed plays spoiled me so that I've worked in just two plays since, and have scant desire and zero plans to work in another.

I would not bet against Bob Ringer's influence on me being the ultimate reason I make my living as a performer.

Because he said I could.

Submit your stories for the Because Project! Email them to fagan@vtchildrenstrust.org. Submissions should be 300 to 600 words long and respond to the prompt "I am/decided to/learned to _______ because of ______." Kids VT will feature one of these stories in each issue.
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Because Project

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