Third grade was the hardest year of my schooling. It was a pivotal emotional year. I got my first crush and it was...crushing. I knocked out my permanent front tooth. I was incredibly sensitive and at the mercy of the mood of those around me. My confidence was at a low point. And then something wonderful happened, something that changed the course of my inner and outer worlds.
I got my first leading role in a play.
I remember being shocked when I read the cast list. To that point, I’d played rocks and bushes and ensemble animals and all kinds of creative characters thought up by creative directors who were kind enough to find a spot onstage for little me. But a new director and playwright had come from Dallas just to do one show at the Warehouse. Her name was Frances Seidensticker. The play was called The Legend of The Texas Easter Rabbit.
The lead character was a blond little girl who had a lot of lines. I wasn’t blond and I’d never had a lot of lines. But here was a director who believed I could play this part.
I don’t think Frances or I could possibly know how that play would change my life or how our lives would intertwine for all the decades to follow.
Last week, some thirty plus years since she first cast me in her play, Frances (now Frances Dodds) brought her last theater class from Corsicana Middle School to my performing arts studio downtown for an improvisation workshop.
After many years of being a creative inspiration to many students like me, Frances is retiring from CISD.
I don’t remember exactly how many shows Frances and I worked on together - four maybe or five, and countless after school classes. She was my first introduction to improv. Much of my teaching philosophy was inspired by having Frances as a teacher. She was so fun, so patient, so creative. And she was a talented writer.
In my third grade journal I wrote that I wanted to be an actor, a teacher and a writer. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that someone had come into my life that year who was all three. Someone who believed in me. Someone who took a chance on me.
Who would I be if I’d never met Frances Seidensticker Dodds during a year in my life that I was struggling to find my voice?
Sometimes, all it takes to change the course of your life is to have someone believe in you at just the right moment. Frances was that person for me.
We spent several summers together doing play in the park. But it was that first show that changed the way I thought about myself. I never knew I could do that - I never knew I could memorize so many lines, or wear a wig, or remember all that staging. I never thought of myself as a lead.
To have Frances believe in me, made me believe in myself. We all need that sometimes. We need someone to recognize in us what we don’t see in ourselves yet.
When Markus and I were considering a move from Los Angeles to Texas two years ago we made a short list of people we had to talk to, Frances and Cran Dodds were on the top of that list. When we were home for the holidays, they invited us to their house, made us breakfast and talked to us for hours about our decision. They were honest and supportive and basically said that...they believed in us. They believed we’d make the right decision and they’d support us in any way they could.
Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to believe in you.
I know many, many of us have benefited from having Frances Dodds as a teacher, director and mentor. Our community has definitely benefited. The arts here have definitely benefited.
As with many careers, theater is full of rejection, competition and people who have forgotten that it’s supposed to be fun. Frances was the foundation of my career. She showed me that theater is about acceptance, and teamwork, and it’s full of joy and creativity. I carried that with me through the trials and tribulations of making a career in the arts. When you know how it can be and should be, it’s easier to make it through the times that aren’t ideal.
As a director, my goal is always to create the positive experience for my cast that Frances created for me.
Thank you, Frances, for changing my life. Thank you believing in me before I believed in myself. Thank you for being an example of the kind of theater teacher I wanted to be. Thank you for being a mentor through my career.
Congratulations on many years of growing young artists and better people. We’re lucky to have you.
Julie owns The Scene on Beaton and Outside the Lines Creative Studios with her husband, Markus Baldwin. They are hosting Mimosas at the Market June 8th. 114 S. Beaton St.