Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Clumsy Encounter with Philip Seymour Hoffman

Contributed by Shay Gines

As someone who worked Off-Off-Broadway and understood the community, Philip Seymour Hoffman was an artist the IT Awards wanted to get as a presenter from the very beginning. Each year we would send the request, and each year his assistant would try to work something into his schedule but – especially after he won the Oscar – he was always busy filming or in production. I just knew, however, that eventually schedules would match up, and we would be able to make it happen.

The only actual encounter I ever had with Mr. Hoffman was at a Starbucks in the Village. It is difficult sometimes for me to introduce myself to people and start conversations, especially if I have an agenda. I feel awkward and inappropriate, which only ends up making the conversation feel awkward and inappropriate. Jason Bowcutt, on the other hand, is a genius at talking with people. He can talk to anyone about anything. He has tried, on more than one occasion, to teach me how he does it, but I simply do not have his skills. So when I saw PSH in the Starbucks I could hear Jason echoing in my subconscious: “Seize the moment. Be confident and just talk with him. He’s a theatre creator just like you.” I screwed my courage to the sticking place, grabbed my business card and approached him… I didn’t so much introduce myself to him as I… orally attacked him.

“Hi my name is Shay (no breath) I’m with the New York Innovative Theatre Awards (no breath) We love you and would really love to have you present an award for us (no breath) oh, the awards are for Off-Off-Broadway (no breath) I know that you are busy and I don’t mean to bother you (no breath) We’ve been talking with your assistant about your schedule, trying to work something out (no breath) she’s very nice and helpful by the way (no breath) it would mean a lot to have you there (no breath) you’re awesome (no breath) oh, the awards are in September (no breath) here’s my card (no breath) we’ve wanted to get you from the very beginning (no breath) we’ll continue to try to work something out with your schedule (no breath) didn’t mean to interrupt you have a good day!”

I pretty much just yelled at him, very quickly, for two minutes, then stuffed my card into his hand and ran away. He was nice. He smiled patiently and shook my hand and nodded and looked confused.

When hearing about the encounter later, Jason asked me, “What did HE say?”

“Um, nothing," I answered. "I didn’t really give him a chance to talk.”

Jason laughed and shook his head, “You probably scared him.”

When I look back on it, it was such an embarrassing, clumsy moment for me. I can’t imagine what he thought was going on. This crazy, six foot tall woman, who maybe knew a little bit too much about his life, just verbally exploded at him while he was trying to buy biscotti and then disappeared.

You’ll be happy to know that I did learn from the encounter and have since finessed my approach when talking with potential presenters.

I was so sad to hear about Mr. Hoffman’s passing because I admired him so much. He was an actor who made incredibly brave choices and had an uncommon ability to reveal a humanity that was fragile and weird and deep and beautiful. I will miss his insight and his work.

Community Prayer & Candlelight Vigil for Philip Seymour Hoffman

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