A Life Well-Designed
By Jasper Grant
As in all families forged by blood or bond, there comes a time when you expand your family based on who your siblings are dating and bring home to meet the parents. Suddenly, there is a new guest at the dinner table.
Enter Gary Smoot. I had known Gary only as the partner of our former Director of Community, (and B-Side starlet) Jamey Hood. He was everything you’d want in someone you would invite over to the proverbial family dinner- smart, witty, funny, dry, and extremely present.
Two seasons ago, Billy Bustamante and I were slowly expanding the artistic vision of the company, and when planning to produce ADDING MACHINE, we thought it was time to incorporate a set designer. Jamey recommended we reach out to Gary.
Fast forward to our first production meeting where Gary walked in with a full model of the theatre including set pieces, props and little characters. Billy (who directed) and I were giddy and elated that we had, indeed, found our man. His designs and ideas were based in the time period, our budget, and Billy’s vision. It was a match made in heaven.
I fondly remember the day Gary and I spent together renting the van to go pick up all the building materials for the set. We talked about everything- politics, past adventures of our youth, girls and boys we had crushes on, and the importance of nature in our lives. It was calming and inspiring to spend time with him. And to hear him talk about his love for Jamey was so palpable and rooted in the most centered love you can imagine.
After his fantastic work on ADDING MACHINE, we naturally kept him around last season to design for THE WILD PARTY. He literally transformed a proscenium stage into a fully immersive space. You walked in the room and knew your location, time period, and had a sense of impending mystery around the characters you were gonna meet that evening during the show. Basically, we hit the jackpot and his vision elevated us to new heights. Again.
Jamey starred as Queenie and Gary often sat watching his beautiful and talented partner in life dazzle and delight our audiences nightly. He would literally beam watching his beloved sweep up the stage each night with her portrayal of the ill-fated chorine. I would often watch Gary watching Jamey. I would sit in the back and look for Gary. His eyes were always fixed on Jamey. It was pretty magical.
Gary, unbeknownst to any of us, wasn’t feeling well a couple of weeks after THE WILD PARTY closed. What we thought was a quick trip to the doctor for possible kidney stones was diagnosed as Stage IV Cholangiocarcinoma.
It progressed rapidly and Gary passed away last month from the disease. We are devastated by his loss, and for the tremendous loss to our family member, Jamey. Gary was a backbone for our MainStage productions. He mastered not only the designs, but the execution of the designs. And for a company just starting its journey, he truly was one of the best things that has happened to us.
In honoring Gary and all that he did for us, B-Side Productions is setting up the Gary Smoot Achievement in Design Award for a graduating senior at LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. This scholarship will be given annually for a graduate who wants to pursue Scenic Design at the college level. We look forward to continuing Gary’s legacy by providing a scholarship to the technical artists of tomorrow who come out of the prestigious program at LaGuardia.
Gary was a champion for our little company and we miss him so. To those who knew Gary and Jamey together, you know there was no love quite like theirs. They led by example and with grace, even during Gary’s remaining days. B-Side threw Gary a going away party (he spent his remaining weeks in his hometown of Seattle) and he literally lit up the room. And even then, he always had his eyes on his gal Jamey. I caught many a glance of him breathing in her life force.
I will miss that. Gary, I thank you from the bottom of my soul for all that you did for our company. You took us to new places we didn’t know we could go. We are happy to continue your name and honor your work in the years to come. God speed, kind sir. You will always have a seat saved for you at our dinner table.