A few weeks ago, I got the news I’d been dreading. One of my former students, David Drummond, lost his battle with leukemia. He was a month shy of his 28th Birthday. Last weekend, we got the chance to gather together -his friends and family to honor and remember him. David was the youngest of three boys. And because of theatre and the fact that both David and his older brother Josh worked for my husband, we are close with his family as well. Sharon and Jeff have always been so supportive of us and lovingly lended us their boys for the stage and for engineering work in Ryan’s company.
On the way into the gathering, I saw that there were these cards on the table for us to write down a special memory. I knew I’d have to take one home because I’d need time to think about which of the many stories to share. I also had so many former students I wanted to connect with there. Talking with them about what they loved about David was therapy for me. When I finally sat down to write my memories, I realized I’d need an entire stack of those cards to share all my favorites. Instead, I decided to write a blog post.
I remember the first time I met David. We were doing auditions for A Few Good Men. We usually had lots of students come out for each play and musical, so there were always kids I didn’t recognize when they made their way to the front of the stage to audition. A tall, older looking kid walked in and began doing the reading. My first thought was that he was new to the school because he was very poised and, although he had a baby face, he looked to be a senior. His delivery was excellent and I was very impressed. And while I didn’t see him in one of the lead parts, I knew I would be able to use him for a supporting role. I looked at the sign-in sheet and it said his name was David Drummond. After he walked out, I asked the other teachers who were in the room, “Who was that guy?” One of them said, “That’s Andy Drummond’s brother.” I knew who Andy was because he was a very well-liked band student and most of my theatre kids were also in band. I said, “But why haven’t I met him before?” She looked at me sort of confused. “Because, he’s a freshman.”
Let me just say. When my dad was in high school, he often talked about performing in a “senior play”. As a director, I thought that was a strange idea because if no one had ever been in a play until they were seniors, how were any of them good at it? That being said, plays tend to have smaller casts than musicals, so it was rare for a freshman to make it. (Unless they looked young and we needed someone to play a child.) But here was this freshman who looked like an adult and had tons of natural talent. Of course, my next question was, “Can he sing?” Spoiler: yes, he could.
When we did the musical version of Little Women that spring, David got the part of Rodrigo. The funny thing about Rodrigo is that he’s a fictional character in Jo’s operatic tragedy. It’s funny because the person playing this character had to be very comfortable in his own skin because he had to be over the top dramatic. I knew he could do the singing, because he had an amazing audition. But could he pull off this over the top character? Yes, he could. David’s parents were completely shocked the first time he started singing on stage because, unlike me, they had no idea he could sing.
David’s sophomore year I was pregnant with my second child. I needed to do the musical first semester so I wasn’t directing a musical with a newborn. We chose A Christmas Carol because it’s a favorite of mine and I knew people would come see it. David played Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. I remember the scene when Fred and his family were giving a toast before their Christmas dinner. He sang, “Cheers! To the joy of your company!” To this day, in our house, no one can say “Cheers!” without everyone in our family singing, “To the joy of your company” all together. At the end of the production, David gave me a figurine of Fred from the Department 56 Christmas village. I don’t know if they knew I had a Christmas village or that putting it up was one of our favorite Christmas traditions, but we treasure it. Someone always says, “Who’s going to place Fred?” This year, I’m going to place Fred.
When it came time to cast Twelve Angry Men, I was only 6 weeks postpartum. I knew I had to choose students I could deal with on no sleep. I was looking for a drama-free cast, and for the most part, I got one. The reason was because David was a gifted leader, and for the first time, David was the the lead. He played juror number eight. If you’ve seen this play or the movie, he’s the juror who doesn’t think the case is as open and shut as the others. He convinces them to take a few minutes to at least talk about the case. Over the next hour and a half, he wins one juror after another to his side until they all agree the boy may not be guilty. That there is reasonable doubt and their own prejudices motivated their first impression that he was guilty. After one of the shows, I was getting some food at the cast party. David was at the table too and I said, “Can I tell you a secret? I think the kid is guilty.” He laughed and said, “It’s funny you say that, because I think he is too.”
David’s junior year, we did The Crucible. I had some people criticize me for choosing this play because it deals with some difficult themes. John Proctor has had an affair with a young woman named Abigail and she and the other girls in town have been dabbling with witchcraft. It’s required reading for many schools, so I sent vouchers to English department heads around the city. Students could use them for free admission and I encouraged teachers to give extra credit if students showed them a ticket stub or program from the show. And it worked. We had groups of students from other schools show up to see the play. David, of course, had the role of John Proctor. He is presented with the option of giving false testimony in order to save himself, but instead chooses to be hanged. Each night, David delivered Arthur Miller’s iconic line, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” And each night I cried. You’d think I’d be numb to it after seeing it so many times, but I wasn’t.
In the spring, we did The Sound of Music. If you’re wondering how I feel about that show, I’ve posted about it before. It’s an all-time favorite of mine. David would be playing the Captain alongside Kristin Lawler as Maria. (She was also Abigail, so they had experience being on stage together and they had a wonderful friendship.) If you think about this show, Captain von Trapp is the most dynamic character. The kids learn to sing and have fun, Maria learns how to spend her love, but the Captain turns from a hardened old man, to a soft-hearted husband and father who remembers how much he loves music. At the end of the play, he would ask the audience to join him in singing "Edelweiss". It was my favorite part. Last Friday, at the gathering to celebrate David’s life, Kristin led us as we sang "Edelweiss" in his honor. It was my favorite part.
When David was a senior, I was looking for a way to get more people in the door for the play. Musicals always packed the house, but play audiences were usually much smaller. I knew Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple was hilarious, but there were only two girls in it. I could do the female version, but that only had two boys. So, we decided to do both. Each night, we’d alternate with a double feature on Saturday. My prop girls had their work cut out for them, because the original Odd Couple took place in the 60’s and the Female version took place in the 80’s. While we used the same scenery for both, much of the set decorations and all of the props needed to be switched out each time.
There was a dynamic duo in the theatre department in Park and David. Park Lukich had been in many of the same shows with David. He was the unwavering Reverend Hale in The Crucible, David’s oldest son Friedrich in The Sound of Music, and Scrooge as a teenager in A Christmas Carol. These two were pretty much inseparable and even though I would never pre-cast a prodution, I knew they’d be tough to beat as the odd couple. Sure enough, they were the best for the roles of Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. David was the neat freak Felix, always running around putting coasters under drinks, and Park was the slovenly Oscar. At first, I thought of Oscar the Grouch, living in a trash can, so I’d remember which was which.
What I didn’t anticipate was them also getting the roles of Manolo and Jesus Costazuela, the blind dates of Olive Madison and Florence Unger in the Female version. That’s how David managed to be in nine main stage productions in high school when typically, the max would be eight. When they came out in the Female version, you could hear a murmur in the audience as people recognized them. “Hey, those are the guys in the the other play.” or “It’s them. The odd couple.” Their scene was absolutely hilarious. Like, you’d see people literally slapping their knees with laughter. (that’s not just an expression.) Most high school performers can pull off dramatic roles or comedic roles but, but very few can do both. David made cry when he chose death over using his name for a lie in the The Crucible and he made my stomach hurt from laughing as Felix. When the play was over, his gift to me was a set of coasters with a C for Cook. We use them every day.
For David’s (and what ended up being my) final production at Pickerington High School Central, we decided to mount Les Misérables. It was the school edition, but the only difference between it and the original was the royalties were more affordable to fit the budget of a high school production. Going into auditions, we were expecting the roles of Jean Valjean and Javert to go to Park and David, but no one knew who would fit each. I certainly didn't. The callback was so unbelievable because all the students had prepared more than ever to win a role in this amazing production. I remember looking at my musical director and saying, “What will we do for the next three months?” They already knew every note of every song. Lots of kids battled it out for those two roles, but ultimately it came down to Park and David. We had them read and sing. Then we switched them. Then we switched them again and the combination that felt right was Park as the antagonist Javert and David as Jean Valjean who comes to faith for the price of a pair of silver candlesticks and changes the lives everyone in his path because of his conversion. While this might have felt like the Park and David show, I assure you, we never could have done it without the talent of so many other amazing performers. I could write another entire blog post about what I learned from these kids who sang their faces off each performance and left the audience exhausted from all they felt in that dark auditorium. When David sang “Bring Him Home” -a prayer for his daughter’s love going into battle, there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.
David’s parents found comfort in playing that song in his final days at the hospital. Park made it to his bedside in time to say goodbye. The dynamic duo together one more time. And then, God brought our favorite boy home to Him.
When you read this, it could feel like our favorite thing about David was his talent. He was remarkably talented. “I need you to sing pretty much non-stop throughout a three-hour show” Done. “Also, I need you to sing way outside of your vocal range.” Done. “And I need you to do it while sword fighting.” Done. As a director I didn’t have to spend too much time coaching David. His instincts and preparation were excellent. There were times he’d come to the table with an artistic choice I hadn’t pictured, but I’d go with it because it was better than what I had in mind. And after all that, it wasn’t his talent I remember him for. It was his leadership. The whole reason we were able to do some of the shows we did was because of David and Park’s leadership. They made everyone better. Better performers, better students, and better friends. They raised the bar and the whole school was much, much better for them.
I don’t know why David is gone. And I wish with all my might he didn’t have to leave us, but while he was here, he lived. He lived and he lead and he loved everyone in his path. And just like Jean Valjean, we are all better for it.
Rejoice in Heaven, David. We love you.