On Friday, August 5, 2011, Portland lost one of its angels on earth. Carolyn Holzman, a dear friend, an innovative theatre artist and a devoted teacher, passed away from a heart attack. In her work as a director and choreographer for Portland stages and as an adjunct Professor in the theatre arts department at Portland State University, Carolyn touched many lives and was a vibrant member of our artistic community.
To say she will be missed is an understatement. There is a hole ripped through a universe where Carolyn connected disparate people through her art and teaching.
I first met Carolyn at her production of “White Nights” at the former Dreams Well Studio, a versatile, one-room theatre space run by Susan Banyas that could seat 40 people on a good day. Carolyn had adapted the Dostoyevsky short story of the same title. It was a small production with a great deal of whimsical movement. I was to later learn that was her signature style, magical movement with a sly smile.
At one point the set pieces, houses constructed of a puffy quilt-like material, began to dance about the stage. I turned to the woman, a stranger, sitting next to me and whispered, “This is wonderful…” She just smiled back with a bit of a twinkle in her eyes and said quietly, “thank you.”
After that we became friends. Later we worked on my collage play “Volcano Embrace” that dealt with geology as a metaphor for violence. It was the most collaborative and cooperative experience I’ve had in theatre. That was another Carolyn Holzman trait. The six women in the play appeared onstage as well as working backstage. We took turns with light and sound cues and helped each other out when we were not onstage. We all got along and all our ideas blended into the play. Effortless and imaginative with no restrictions or boxes. That was Carolyn. All things were possible. She had an ease that inspired openness and an exchange of ideas. She would tell you what worked and what didn’t but her ability to accept the seemingly impossible kept the creativity coming.
In her early years working with Robin Lane and Do Jump Theatre or more recently when she created movement for colleagues at PSU, Carolyn brought magic to her collaborations. Whether it was a solo performance for Do Jump as a woman in a bathtub taking a shower or her choreography of island sprites creating a storm in Bill Tate’s “The Tempest” or orchestrating a giant wooden plank seesaw to represent a large ship in Devon Allen’s “Ursula,” movement was never a separate vignette from the play.
“Movement tells a story,” Carolyn said of her choreography. In the same interview, Devon Allen told me that when Carolyn choreographed, movement became a spine of a play that “infuses the whole production.”
There’s no understanding why this bright spirit was taken but she was. I send my thoughts and prayers to her husband Chris and her family and friends.
The memorial for Carolyn Holzman took place August 12 at Holman’s Funeral Service in Portland. Her family shared intimate stories about her life and it was moving and inspiring. You can send private condolences or write your memories in the guest book..
You can also write your thoughts and comments about Carolyn on this page… I’ll share them with her family.
I leave you with a clip of Carolyn’s interview as she gently talks about her movement work on the play “Ursula” with Devon Allen.
I also leave you with a short movie I took at Carolyn’s party in 2009. Ever the artist, she put together an interactive “experience” which my husband Richard tried out. She called it “Falling Backward Into Time.” If only we could, dear Carolyn…
© Dmae Roberts 2011