Michael Louis Serafin-Wells




Michael is remembering his friend and mentor Curt Dempster, Founding Artistic Director of New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre, who died on this day in 2007. The following remarks are from Michael's address at Mr. Dempster's memorial service in April of that year:


"I met Curt the first week I was in New York. My friend Susanne Brinkley (I know) was casting final readings for his playwriting class. She put me in Kate Robin's play that night and I met him the next morning in his office. He asked what my plans were. I told him I was interviewing with Michael Howard and he told me about Tannersville. The day after that I rang Michael Howard to confirm but Curt had already called to say I was studying with him instead. I think he kinda stole me. I'm glad he did. I fucking loved him. He said the right thing at the wrong time. His dogs farted during important meetings. He wasn't impressed with celebrity. Curt was the second person I called, after my Mom, when I heard that my father died. Something happened to me then. It feels a lot like that now. People fall out of love with EST. They come and go and sometimes come back. Mark Roberts said the best thing about EST is that everybody thinks their era there was its hay day. I think that's beautiful. But I don't think that's how Curt saw it. I think for him it was always in the present. His gift was to bring it all together cross-generational and alive. He brought people together. Not infrequently in vein-popping, messianic rage convinced he was doing it all wrong. It became a ritual that every few years some terribly earnest, disgruntled faction would rise to :save" the theatre from Curt. He outlasted nearly every insurrection but the cumulative effect allowed a narrative to emerge that the theatre was in constant crisis, forever teetering on the brink of financial ruin. No one wanted to take the theatre away from him it was assured, only the purse strings. He lost his voice. Literally. There was this weird thing going on with his throat. The last class of interns thought it was his real voice because they'd never heard anything different. If you asked him about it he'd huskily whisper that it was getting better. But it fucking wasn't. If the phone was ringing or somebody was talking in the lobby you couldn't hear him. After the gypsy for Detail I had to kneel with my notebook on my leg and my ear next to his face to get his notes. The first thing he said was "you can take these or not but I'm right 100 percent of the time." At the end of his wake there was a movement to open his coffin. It was a closed casket but the whole reason he hadn't been cremated immediately was because some thought it important that people be able to see him if they really needed to. Before the wake "officially" began the funeral director took anyone who wanted into the room one or two at a time for "viewing". But at the end a group of a dozen or so decided they had to have a last look. I didn't wanna leave the room but I didn't wanna go up there. I just watched them, some on tip toes, peering in at him. All I could see was his baseball cap and a bit of that eagle-like beak of his. I sat scrunched up in a corner by the coats until, mercifully, it was over. They closed the lid and filed out and I just sat there trying to talk to him in a whisper from across the room. But all I could say was "I can't hear you. I. Can't. Hear. You."'


Michael Louis Wells

New York City

April 29, 2007