In 2001 I moved to Miami to take a job teaching theatre at a private school. At the end of my first year I had creative differences with the school – I wanted to have a college-style curriculum of both performance and academic theatre, and they wanted nothing but “let’s put on a show.” I left on good enough terms with my department chair that I was included in the hiring process of my replacement. He was a talented young man named Troy with a background in teaching high school theatre – mine was more in college – and he was an enthusiastic and creative director, he was innovative enough to bring in some elements of academia under the radar, and the students loved him. I was happy to see the theatre program take off, and they did some amazing productions, including a hilarious Crimes of the Heart and, in November 2003, a magnificent production of The Miracle Worker.
But it came at a price. The stress of a full teaching load, directing three full-fledged productions as well as prepping for state and local drama competitions, and a family illness in a far-off city weighed down on Troy, and in the middle of his second year, he abruptly left the school. I had kept in touch with him and knew that he was dealing with some personal demons in the form of episodes of depression, for the which he was receiving some form of treatment. It seemed to help; every time I saw him he was “doing great,” including eight weeks ago when we saw the school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from a friend who is a parent of a child at the school. On Wednesday, January 5, an unidentified swimmer drowned off Miami Beach in what was believed to be an accident – there were dangerous rip currents at the time. More details came out, though – the swimmer was fully clothed and he was wearing a t-shirt from the school. Another friend who hadn’t heard from Troy in a couple of days contacted the police, and the pieces of the puzzle were put together.
I don’t think anyone can say with certainty what happened. All I know is that I feel a deep sense of loss, both for his family, students, and friends, and for himself. We all have struggles, and we all find ways – productive or not – to deal with them, and at this point whether or not Troy’s death was accidental doesn’t really matter. The gifts he had he shared. The lives he touched in the classroom and on stage are changed. I hope he knew that as he walked into the sea.
Now cracks a Noble heart, good night sweet Prince,
And flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest.
– Hamlet, Act V, scene 2