If you’re lucky in this life you become friends with someone like David Bowen. He liked to appear crusty and was a bit of a curmudgeon (so naturally we had that in common) but his first response to everyone was kindness and an offering of generosity. He was funny, creative, smart, and brave. And then, if one’s behavior warranted it, one could earn his ire and he’d bare his claws, but it took a lot to provoke him. He was always very, very real. What you saw from David was who he was.
Mostly he was heart.
I met David on the job over 10 years ago. He was always involved in the team building functions at work, encouraging others and raising funds and spirits. We had a lot of food-related activities and he took to making sure the celiacs (including me) always had safe options among the cookies and pot-lucks. We appreciated the same humor and became friends. And then I learned he did theatre.
I founded Gilda Shedstecker Presents! about that time and the most important aspect to me was having an enriching experience working with good people, not producing a hit or casting stars. So I asked David if he would be involved when I selected a show to produce, and he consented to taking a small part. The result was Shane Riggs’s comedy Confessions from the Ladies Room, and David played Stephen, half of a Hollywood couple with Matthew, played by Brian Westerley. Not exactly a small part. And a romantic part. With a love scene. I believe it was the first normative same-sex cuddle and kiss on a stage in the Stark area (North Canton Playhouse had previously done the show, but had cut that scene), and David was terrified. He wasn’t good-looking enough, he wasn’t romantic material, he wasn’t young enough. He was exactly enough of ALL those things to portray just a regular guy who was special enough to be in a loving relationship, period. He was perfect. He and Brian brought just a regular next door gay couple onto the stage in Canton. A quiet little milestone, and I acknowledge David’s personal courage in conquering his own-self doubts to set the foundation for GSP as a ground-breaking theatre of diversity.
David was a GSP regular from then on for most of the last 5 years. He was incredulous again when I asked him to play Brother Boy in GSP‘s Sordid Lives, the role defined by Leslie Jordan in the film. He asserted he was all wrong for the part, but wasn’t going to pass up the chance – who would? – and trusted my vision. He knocked the role out of the park. And in the meantime, he befriended and nurtured new people in our family who were facing their own fears and defining their own truths, becoming a rock for them.
By the way, did I mention those claws? Brother Boy is a Tammy Wynette impersonator committed in a mental hospital, and I put David in a horrendous tent of a purple dress. He bitched about having to wear that dress constantly, but… On stage he worked that ugly dress for every laugh possible. He made us believe that a mental patient could salvage a cast off wig and frock from Bernie’s Big & Stout, and become someone beautiful. He was awesome.
We knew David’s health was precarious. The story of his heart attack during the Players Guild’s Christmas Carol is legendary. He had a heart scare during our Baby with the Bathwater and I had to go on in his place for our final performance. I was with David in the ER 3 times in the last 4 years, but he always prevailed. We always expected there would be another show, another shopping excursion, another dinner.
David was one of the constant lights sparkling in the Canton Arts District. Strolling First Friday, attending an opening, or endlessly volunteering, he was everywhere and knew everyone. He participated making art, he tended artist’s spaces, he served on committees. He was a man who was nourished by creativity, and was generous with his support and advice.
Ten years is not as long as some people knew him, but David was in my life in so many ways. He had his struggles, he had a temper, and he loved me enough to make amends and put Humpty back together again. It matters enormously that he made sure I knew he respected me. And as he lived life large, and real, I have so many wonderful memories to bind my broken heart with at his passing, so many good examples of how to be a good human. I resent that there won’t be more, but I am so grateful for our David moments. I am so much richer, and Gilda Shedstecker wouldn’t be what it is if not for David Bowen. Canton itself bears the blessings of David Bowen.
I leave you with these words from David, profiles he wrote for himself from a couple of our programs. Always leave them laughing.
“David’s critically-acclaimed role of Stephen in Confessions from the Ladies Room led to his casting in the title role of Spielberg’s Lincoln. He was replaced following artistic differences with the director. (‘Damn directors!’) David can be seen in his one-man show, My Country Queens; Kitty, Loretta, Tammy: The South Rises Again. Thanks to Laura and Roxy for understanding!”
“David is just back from his world tour of My Country Queens; Kitty, Loretta, and Tammy, which followed his critic’s favorite performance of ‘Brother Boy’ in Gilda’s production of Sordid Lives. David enjoys playing volleyball, taking long walks, and eats as much Mexican food as he can. He wants to someday write, produce, and star in a biographical musical based on Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders tentatively called That’s no Bull! He thanks God, his family, and most importantly, the lady in his life, Roxy, for allowing him to pursue his dreams.”
Read David’s GSP profile.