Atlanta Has Lost a Giant

Posted on July 31, 2008

Atlanta has lost a giant. With Gene-Gabriel Moore’s passing, there is a hole left that can’t quite ever be filled again.

In the theatre racket, we talk a lot about transcendence. We’re always striving to create moments of transcendence, when the spirit can be lifted beyond the crushing constructs of the grind we call daily life. But sometimes you come along a person whose spirit is transcendent on a daily basis. Someone who inspires just by being. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across such a person a few times in isolated moments over the course of your life. But if you meet such a person and can actually have a friendship with him or her? Well, in that case “lucky” transcends to “blessed.”

I remember the first time I met Gene-Gabriel. It was 1999 and I was working in the scene shop at the Alliance Theatre. On a lunch break from a load-in, I stepped into the Chick Fil-A at Colony Square. Sitting there was an elderly gentleman, his face distorted with the telltale signs of a stroke. He was eating lunch and, as I recall, reading a newspaper. On his baseball cap was a button that said “Theatre Person.” Well, being a new kid on the Atlanta theatre block I was anxious to meet as many theatre people as possible. I said to him, “I like your button.” We struck up a conversation and a friendship was born.

Over the years, I saw Gene-Gabriel frequently. Sometimes it was at Starbucks by chance. Sometimes we sat down together in planned meetings to discuss potential projects (or life, or Tennessee Williams, or politics…). But most often it was at a theatre. Gene-Gabriel was, you see, a man of the theatre. And despite the ravages of illness, his energy for the theatre knew no bounds. There he would inevitably be, often on the front row. I think my favorite moment seeing him at a theatre was at the brilliant 7 Stages production of Caridad Svich’s Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell that was Once her Heart: A Rave Fable. Part of the staging conceit was that the audience stood in the midst of the play as it happened around them. There was seating available for those who needed or wanted it, but Gene-Gabriel stood. There he was, his physical abilities limited by the cruelty of a stroke, but he wanted to have the full experience. So he stood. There’s a mighty metaphor in that moment.

He was an inspiration to me in ways I can’t begin to describe. To do so in this way almost seems tawdry, for to put it into printed words seems automatically to reduce it to the sum of the letters on the page put together to describe it. Certainly, his life as a theatre person inspires me. But his spirit was transcendent and he inspired in ways that were much more expansive than simply theatre-related.

Last year my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor and subsequently suffered a significant stroke, leaving severely disabled and in need of acute medical care. Talking with Gene-Gabriel about his similar experience was one of the things that got me through the initial tough times adjusting emotionally to my mother’s drastically altered new life circumstances. It was Gene-Gabriel who urged me not to give up hope – ever – and to continue believing in the capacity for her improvement. I don’t know if he ever knew how much that meant to me.

There is a lot of talk going on in Atlanta theatre circles right now about Gene-Gabriel’s legacies. There are many. Some are wide and some are intensely personal. But know I mean it when I say that the hole he leaves can scarcely ever be filled by anyone else. And now that this remarkably transcendent person has transcended in that most ultimate of ways, I know his memory will shine brightly for a lot of people. Anyone who knew him is richer for it.