“This gathering isn’t about saying goodbye to Harold. Instead it’s about saying ‘Good luck,’” said Sue Ryan, owner of the Good Earth Market and self-proclaimed president of the “Harold Schmidt Fan Club.”
The gathering at Scraps restaurant in Dewey Beach was held in recognition of Schmidt’s imminent departure from Ocean View to Tucson, Ariz. It was a crowd in which every single person said their life had been touched by Schmidt’s creative energy, humor and leadership.
Some have had parts in his plays, or sang songs in his musicals, painted scenery, watched their children grow up in the theater, or received counsel about their own writing. All recalled the fun of involvement with the Village Players and moments of sheer hilarity that can result from seat-of-the-pants getting things done. Their parting gift to Schmidt was a director’s chair embellished with the words: “Director, Playwright, Friend.”
Schmidt said he has recognized for a couple of years that his time in the area was limited. With the decline in the economy and its devastating consequences for the local building industry, it was his unenviable responsibility as director of human resources at Carl Freeman Companies to be involved in the departure of many loyal employees. Now it is his turn.
After sending out more than 100 résumés, Schmidt said one resulted in his becoming the new human resources manager for the 1,000-employee Sears Holdings organization in Tucson.
“They were attracted by the line in my résumé indicating I created a theater company involving both employees and community members,” said Schmidt.
It’s unlikely that Sears realized the extent of their new hire’s creative portfolio: five plays, three musicals, numerous children’s shows and at least two novels and a biography well in progress.
Just days before Schmidt, his wife, Sheila, and their two dogs packed up in their car and headed west, a rehearsal, followed by an audition, was in full voice for “Plain Beautiful,” Schmidt’s latest work.
Actor and director Carl Tramon drove down from New York. Ashley Martin, 17, arrived from Potomac, Md., full of excitement at being chosen by Schmidt to play her most challenging role. Local thespians and businesspeople Robin Cannatelli and Rich Warfield came to play husband and wife yet again, “another season, another show!” Kathleen Young, a “Harold groupie” since watching his first play, “Wrinkles,” in 2002, drove in laden with costumes ready for the actors to try on for the first time. Only Mary Ryan was missing, as she was rehearsing “Scrooge!” for the Clear Space production.
All congregated in the home of John and Celeste Thompson. Thompson is new to the area but known nationally as a musician and composer. “Plain Beautiful” is his first collaboration with Schmidt.
The small audience, sitting on the stairs watching the birth of a play about human conflict and conscience-driven choices, was mesmerized. Even Schmidt acknowledged he was blown away by the impact of the words and music.
“Plain Beautiful” could be selected for one of the performances at Bayside next summer, but the community doesn’t have to wait six months to enjoy one of Schmidt’s musicals. A revised, edgier version of “Coconut Road” is ready to be performed and is awaiting a final decision about venue.
The play will be directed by Tramon and, depending on audience response, there is a good chance it will then be ready for an introduction to New York producers. Cannatelli is the local liaison for coordination of actors and staging. She is looking for people interested in participating and can be contacted by e-mail at Islander19944@comcast.net.
Schmidt said he will miss Ocean View but anticipates coming back regularly. After all, his mother, Virginia Kraus, on whom his first musical, “Einstein’s Breakfast,” is based, will remain in Ocean View. His son Zak is a freshman in college in Pennsylvania, and, according to his proud father, “is doing really great.”
“What Tucson offers me, as well as the job,” said Schmidt, “is the opportunity to be in an artsy area that already has five thriving theaters. Being near California, I’m planning to write a few screenplays and will be using lots of contacts from over the years to try to get a film made.”
As Schmidt’s wife, Sheila, observed, his adult professional life can be measured in decades: 10 years of figure skating and choreography; of retail; and, until this month, the decade of Freeman.
What has remained constant is Schmidt’s passion for communicating his strong sense of life’s drama, human quirkiness and spiritual morality through the written word. Schmidt’s immediate presence will be sorely missed in Sussex County, but his stage will expand for larger audiences to be entertained by his characters and enthralled by his words.
Good luck, Harold.