The first time I met Patrick Stewart was in the summer of 1986 at Oberlin College during a visit I was making in hopes of transferring there from the behemoth state school I was attending. I really had no idea who he was, but my guide assured me he was a very important, very talented member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. We shook hands in an office of the theatre building. I was told he would be playing Prospero in Oberlin's offering of The Tempest that evening, so I went. It turned out to be a great production, set in the then contemporary 80's with all the castaway courtiers wearing unstructured suits over pastel tees and Antonio and Sebastian snorting coke behind everyone's backs.
I'll never forget how Stewart ended the show. The theatre hummed with awed silence after he uttered the final words of the "Now my charms are all o'erthrown" epilogue:
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands...
....As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
But of course, quiet is exactly the opposite of what Prospero wants or needs at this point. Having abandoned his magic, he's literally begging the audience
for their applause to fill the sails of his ship back to civilization. So after an adeptly awkward pause, Stewart met the crowd's silence by flinging out his hands in a gesture of measured desperation and thus set loose the torrents of ovation
. I make it a point of pride to hardly ever join standing o
's but I had
to leap to my feet with the rest of the audience
. That night I learned something about the rarely evoked power of theatre
. (Some times—bitter times—I wish I hadn't seen it, and thus would have been able to walk away
The second time I met Patrick Stewart must have been shortly after that, my sophomore year, though at the time the interval seemed long. He was giving a series of seminars at BSS — something on text analysis, using obscure excerpts from Lear for his demonstration, and then later that day a lecture on playing Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. On the lunch break I skipped the luncheon and went to my dorm's homecoming tailgate. I sucked down a few from the keg in the parking lot and went back to the seminars pretty lit. Afterwards, at the wine and cheese reception I horned into a conversation between Stewart and professor Samuel Schoenbaum, at the time one of the premiere Shakespeare authorities in America. It was kind of like you asking in on a pick-up one-on-one between Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. I blathered something about Hamlet and reminded Stewart that I had met him that summer at Oberlin; they were both very polite and I soon clued in that I wasn't really part of the conversation.
The third time I met Patrick Stewart was at the 2001 Ovation Awards in Los Angeles. He was one of the presenters, and of course had achieved wide fame in the interval as Captain Jean Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise as well as several other notable film roles. Naturally there were other celebrities at the Ovations, but Stewart was the only one I approached, I suppose because I had met him those other two times and had the story to tell. I didn't have the chutzpah to tell him I'd been nominated for something, and just as well, since I didn't win. Again he was polite, but not overly engaging. He had other people to talk to.
So here's the point, as far as I can tell:
I very much admire Stewart's work as an actor—heck, I even think Star Trek: The Next Generation is above average television. He also seems like a very personable fellow. But when all is said and done, there nothing more special about him for me than countless other celebrities I admire. I guess he's just my celebrity to bear: the one assigned at random by Destiny: just like that one acquaintance you see over and over in the city. Even though you know hundreds of people, it's always that one person you run into. It seems that the same principal applies on a slightly different time scale to brushing elbows with the famous. I fully expect that I'll run into Stewart several more times before one or the other of us departs this vale of tears. And each time, I'll walk up to him, shake his hand and tell him of the story of other times I walked up to him and shook his hand. He'll be polite, I'll quickly take me leave, and on it goes. Destiny isn't always profound.