Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Longtime Actor has Left the Stage

Harvey Phillips, who has performed on South Florida stages for over twenty years, as taken his final bow. He died of emphysema on July 25th, 2007. (title links to obituary)

I first met Harvey when I began working at the old Florida Repertory Theater in West Palm Beach. He had come down from Philadelphia to do some show at the Rep, and didn't go back. Lacking housing, he convinced artistic director Keith Baker to let him set up house in the backstage of the theater. Many of us envied Harvey a little; not that his accommodations were all that great ( a cot, a bar fridge, a hot plate, and a TV tucked in the storage loft) but he was living the life; he LIVED in the THEATER. The rest of us were stuck coming up with RENT every week. In lieu of rent, Harvey acted as a watchman, and did in fact keep the Playhouse from being burgled a time or two: downtown wasn't safe back then, and having someone in the building to call the cops was not a bad thing.

Of course, that meant that we woke the poor man up when we came in to do a set changeover at 6am the day after the show closed. We'd forget, and start hollering directions to the crew, and poor, bedraggled Harvey would get rousted. "Huh..wha'? Hah? Oh...." "Sorry, Harvey!" we'd call, "Forgot you'd be up there!" "S'allright" he'd mutter, "I'll make coffee." This happened more or less every changeover. He wasn't a morning person, but he never, ever complained about the rude awakenings during tech week.

In those days, if you needed an old character actor, it was invariably Harvey. Back then, he was only in his fifties, but his air was already silver-gray, and he had his share of lines. He used to say "Getting old is the best career move I ever made!" Then he'd laugh and clap you on the back. He was the most workingest actor I knew back in the '80s and early '90s. A lot of us envied him.

Eventually, he met a wonderful woman. She saw all that was wonderful about Harvey, and saw past the fact that he was basically homeless at the time. I think his new family benefited as much as he did; and certainly Harvey did well with his new home. And quite a few of us envied him that, too.

I last saw Harvey three years ago, when he participated in a play reading at The Miracle Theatre. He had that same smile he always did, and his wife and step daughter made the drive down from West Palm Beach to see him perform. In the lobby before the show, he confessed it was getting harder to "keep up." But then he went on stage, the lights came up and so did Harvey.

He had the theater career - and the life - that most of us only aspire to.

Bravo, Harvey. Bravo.

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