Wednesday, June 16, 2010

For Mama Zinni

The world is a darker place today than it was yesterday, having lost the amazing, the incomparable, the irreplaceable Frieda Paras-Jones.

I think what I will miss most is her stories. While I’ve been performing at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire for a few years, my experiences cannot compare to the body of knowledge that was Frieda. Her memory was long and detailed. She could recount what, at the time, seemed like the most insignificant coincidences to create a charming and hilarious story. And try as I might, I can never re-tell her stories just the way I heard them. That was a skill owed to her and her alone.

I met Frieda the first day of what was to become a 4-year “internship” under her tutelage. While the UCLA term ended long before my tenure as one of her assistants, the label, “smarter-than-the-average-intern” would stick with me for many years to come. I will never forget long days in the costume shop in the weeks before the Renaissance Faire opened, where the stories got funnier and the jokes got punchier as the hours wore on. She expected a lot of me, but never an inch less than she gave herself, and I know that many days she would make the long drive home and continue sewing there until the wee hours of the morning so that everything would be perfect for the Big Day.

More than a boss, she was a friend, a caretaker; like the big sister you always dreamed about. When Robert and I ran into financial troubles a few years ago, she took us in until we got back on our feet. When I fretting about getting cast as a Theme Character, she recommended me to Maggie. And at the end of my very first year, she recommended I go watch the Merry Wives at Rogue’s Reefe. I have so much to thank her for, but the most valuable thing she taught me is to always be true to myself, and never to let anyone walk on me for any reason.

There are some things I know she’ll be glad to have seen. Hanna as Queen for one thing. The brilliance of Commedia Volante for another. Frieda always joked that while she might not get into Heaven for being the nicest person, she knew she’d get in for best costume. I think we can all agree there’s no contest there. And one of the last things she said to me this year was, “Give ‘em hell, girlie.” I intend to, Mama. I intend to.