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Reflections from Grace Gonglewski, F. Otto Haas Award Recipient in 1995

Feb 7, 2017

As we get ready to celebrate over two decades of the Haas Award at our Haas Happy Hour on February 27, we’re sharing reflections from past recipients in this series.

Actor Grace Gonglewski was the first EVER Haas winner in 1995. She moved to Philadelphia in 1987 to accept the Dorothy Haas fellowship at the Walnut Street Theatre. “The Haas family has been very good to me!” Grace says.

On the process of applying for the award, Grace shares this experience: “In those days we had to present ourselves to the judges, with a 20 minute interview/performance. I remember passing Deborah Block in the elevator with what seemed like 20 African drummers and thinking, 'Oh my, I am not going to win this award'. My presentation was showing the judges a photo album from the previous year when I had done 6 shows IN A ROW. I talked about each show and gave them some remembrance from each one: a prop; a quote, picture of me being corseted by Jen Childs backstage at the Arden; a monologue. I read a Rilke quote from Letters to a Young Poet about not looking for rewards but doing the work ‘because you must’.  At the end I gave each one of the judges a little box of my own garden cherry tomatoes with a sprig of rosemary 'for remembrance'. I told them this was why I lived in Philadelphia: I could be an artist, think about someday buying a house and raising a family, have a garden. I didn’t crave fame and fortune, just the ability to work at the craft that I love and create a life of beauty. I guess it took.”

But as for the evening of the awards itself: “Well…I like to say it was the best of times it was the worst of times. My sister Kaight had just died one month before from her struggle with breast cancer. I was at the lowest emotional point of my young life, and the award seemed a million miles away. But. I got a big ol’ gold dress with a black velvet bodice that made me feel like a fabulous Barbie, and I had a shiny new boyfriend after years of ...bad choices... so I threw myself into the present.  At the ceremony I remember winning Best Supporting Actress in a Musical and thinking, ‘Well there goes the Haas award, they wouldn't give me both'….and I remember them calling my name and feeling so much joy- and wishing my sister could see it, and then feeling somehow that she had, that she had witnessed the whole thing from her ring-side seat in heaven, maybe even pulling a few strings. I see the pictures from that night and I don’t think my smile could have gotten any bigger.”

Grace had already drunk “the kool-aid” of Philadelphia, so she was here to stay. Here’s what she shares about our community: “We build one another up instead of having to elbow each other aside to get to 'the top'. We take turns shining, we can truly be supporting actors. We have each other’s back, we are kind, we take care of each other. And we are hardworking. You can always tell the Philly kid because they have their lines down before they show up to the first rehearsal. And there is something delicious about working with people you know well, you don’t have that awkward, ‘Um, is it okay if I grab you by the waist’ thing. We KNOW each other, we trust each other.”

Who is inspiring Grace in town today?

Katherine Fritz; Alex Keiper; Bi Jean; Liz Filios; James Ijames; Mary Tounamen’s new play Marcus/Emma was pretty thought-provoking and gutsy, and the talk back afterwards was one of the deepest public discourses on race I have had outside of my Quaker meeting…that was fabulous. I love how these young artist live their lives, actually buying property when they can, fixing things up themselves. I love that Dan Hodge, how his heart is so out there; Taysha Canales, Cindy Spitko and other students of mine; some of those crazy kids in The Big Mess Cabaret who cross the line between profanity into divinity….ALL the artists in the city inspire me.

Join us for the Haas Happy Hour on February 27, where Grace will sit down with 2016 Haas Award recipient Bi Jean Ngo to talk about their life and work!