Saying goodbye to my mentor E. Dee Torrey

gafftaper

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If you have ever learned anything from me here on CB. If you ever found an idea in my 13,000 posts interesting. If you ever took my advice and used it. Those things happened because of a man named E Dee Torrey. If you have ever felt like saying thank you to me for something I posted here, you can thank me now by reading the rest of this message.

Most of us had a special person who inspired us to be the technician we are today. For me it was E. Dee Torrey. He spent the 80's working his way through several theater gigs before eventually becoming the lighting designer at Seattle Opera. Then in the late 80's he took a job at a community college in suburban Seattle. My first encounters with him I was in 1989 as a 19 year old actor taking classes. I don't remember much about him from this time other than he was this sort of scary grumpy guy in the cowboy hat who had this dark smokey office under the student union. I got my AA and moved on to the University to get my B.A. in History, got married and worked to pay my wife's way through nursing school. Then at 24 years old I went back to school with a plan of becoming a High School History and Drama teacher. Having spent a couple of years out of school and needing a few more credits to be eligible for the Drama endorsement I spent a year back at the Community College before grad school. This year changed my life. In fall quarter, I took a lighting design class from Dee and was immediately mesmerized by the man teaching it and I was sucked back into my first love of theater tech.

Dee was the quintessential college tech director. He was a lighting designer, carpenter, sound tech, and man could that guy paint. I remember watching him take an old desk we got for $5 at a thrift store and in less than 15 minutes of painting you would swear it was fine oak. He was HARD working. He worked long hours. He always did things the right way. Things were cut square and level. Screws were in flush, paint was touched up in places the audience could never see. Furniture was solid. Set walls were sturdy. He had every detail mapped out in his mind and he made sure it was all done correct. I learned how fun it was to be part of a hard working team and the importance of doing things right because the audience might not know the difference, but Dee knew the difference.

Dee always wore cowboy boots, a floppy old leather hat, and (when he was sure the dean wasn't looking) he had a lit cigarette in his mouth. We had this nightmare of an old wooden A-frame ladder on wheels with a vertical center extension. It was setup to about 18' high. I will never forget the day that I was one of 4 or 5 young tough college guys standing around looking at each other, all of us afraid to climb the ladder to hang a 360Q. Dee, lit cigarette in mouth, grabbed the fixture, climbed the ladder, through his leg over the top and straddling the center with the heals of his cowboy boots locked around the round rung. Hung the fixture in about 30 seconds and as he climbed back down, with a smile said "bunch of p*****s" in a way that made us all laugh at ourselves... and the legend of the man grew taller.

The actors who came in to do their required shop hours were all terrified of him and he heard a lot of "yes sir", "no sir" from them. So those of us who knew him well began to call him "sir" all the time... which confused the outsiders even more. Because we used the formal term in such a casual familiar way.

I quickly figured out that I could learn far more by working with him than I would ever learn from any text book. So I volunteered all I could. I went on to graduate school to get my teaching certification and returned as often as I could to build sets, design lights, run sound, play with flash pots... whatever he was working on I was there for the next two years. When I finished my teaching program he got very sick and was home for a couple of months. I was hired to be the T.D. for the quarter while he recovered. i got to do his job every day, which was awesome, and call him at home for advice. It was the perfect training ground for the rest of my career.

I grew close to a group of technicians who were also working with Dee in those years. Almost everyone in that group of technicians has gone on to have great careers of our own in tech. Many of us teaching even more future technicians and passing the torch forward. Today I can't walk in a theater without saying, thinking, or doing something that he told me. i can't imagine what my life would have been like today if I didn't take that first lighting class. I have had hundreds of students who now have careers of their own all over the industry ... and they have them because of the influence Dee had on me. Through this forum I have been able to teach people all over the world because of the influence Dee had on me.

I would like to leave you with what must have been Dee's favorite joke. We had a grand piano that was stored in this wooden cabinet (probably built by Dee). This lived in a small store room on stage. To get the piano through the doors it had to go in one direction and then rotate to a different direction in order to slide in the cabinet. There would always be 4 or 5 people helping as it was a very tight fit so we needed to have good control in order to not damage the piano. Every time we moved it one of the veteran techs would always call out at just the point we were to rotate the piano... "Spin It"... to which Dee would say, "No it's a grand".

You will be missed Sir

One more favor you can do for me... If your inspirational mentor is still alive, let them know how much they mean to you.
 

RonHebbard

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
If you have ever learned anything from me here on CB. If you ever found an idea in my 13,000 posts interesting. If you ever took my advice and used it. Those things happened because of a man named E Dee Torrey. If you have ever felt like saying thank you to me for something I posted here, you can thank me now by reading the rest of this message.

Most of us had a special person who inspired us to be the technician we are today. For me it was E. Dee Torrey. He spent the 80's working his way through several theater gigs before eventually becoming the lighting designer at Seattle Opera. Then in the late 80's he took a job at a community college in suburban Seattle. My first encounters with him I was in 1989 as a 19 year old actor taking classes. I don't remember much about him from this time other than he was this sort of scary grumpy guy in the cowboy hat who had this dark smokey office under the student union. I got my AA and moved on to the University to get my B.A. in History, got married and worked to pay my wife's way through nursing school. Then at 24 years old I went back to school with a plan of becoming a High School History and Drama teacher. Having spent a couple of years out of school and needing a few more credits to be eligible for the Drama endorsement I spent a year back at the Community College before grad school. This year changed my life. In fall quarter, I took a lighting design class from Dee and was immediately mesmerized by the man teaching it and I was sucked back into my first love of theater tech.

Dee was the quintessential college tech director. He was a lighting designer, carpenter, sound tech, and man could that guy paint. I remember watching him take an old desk we got for $5 at a thrift store and in less than 15 minutes of painting you would swear it was fine oak. He was HARD working. He worked long hours. He always did things the right way. Things were cut square and level. Screws were in flush, paint was touched up in places the audience could never see. Furniture was solid. Set walls were sturdy. He had every detail mapped out in his mind and he made sure it was all done correct. I learned how fun it was to be part of a hard working team and the importance of doing things right because the audience might not know the difference, but Dee knew the difference.

Dee always wore cowboy boots, a floppy old leather hat, and (when he was sure the dean wasn't looking) he had a lit cigarette in his mouth. We had this nightmare of an old wooden A-frame ladder on wheels with a vertical center extension. It was setup to about 18' high. I will never forget the day that I was one of 4 or 5 young tough college guys standing around looking at each other, all of us afraid to climb the ladder to hang a 360Q. Dee, lit cigarette in mouth, grabbed the fixture, climbed the ladder, through his leg over the top and straddling the center with the heals of his cowboy boots locked around the round rung. Hung the fixture in about 30 seconds and as he climbed back down, with a smile said "bunch of p*****s" in a way that made us all laugh at ourselves... and the legend of the man grew taller.

The actors who came in to do their required shop hours were all terrified of him and he heard a lot of "yes sir", "no sir" from them. So those of us who knew him well began to call him "sir" all the time... which confused the outsiders even more. Because we used the formal term in such a casual familiar way.

I quickly figured out that I could learn far more by working with him than I would ever learn from any text book. So I volunteered all I could. I went on to graduate school to get my teaching certification and returned as often as I could to build sets, design lights, run sound, play with flash pots... whatever he was working on I was there for the next two years. When I finished my teaching program he got very sick and was home for a couple of months. I was hired to be the T.D. for the quarter while he recovered. i got to do his job every day, which was awesome, and call him at home for advice. It was the perfect training ground for the rest of my career.

I grew close to a group of technicians who were also working with Dee in those years. Almost everyone in that group of technicians has gone on to have great careers of our own in tech. Many of us teaching even more future technicians and passing the torch forward. Today I can't walk in a theater without saying, thinking, or doing something that he told me. i can't imagine what my life would have been like today if I didn't take that first lighting class. I have had hundreds of students who now have careers of their own all over the industry ... and they have them because of the influence Dee had on me. Through this forum I have been able to teach people all over the world because of the influence Dee had on me.

I would like to leave you with what must have been Dee's favorite joke. We had a grand piano that was stored in this wooden cabinet (probably built by Dee). This lived in a small store room on stage. To get the piano through the doors it had to go in one direction and then rotate to a different direction in order to slide in the cabinet. There would always be 4 or 5 people helping as it was a very tight fit so we needed to have good control in order to not damage the piano. Every time we moved it one of the veteran techs would always call out at just the point we were to rotate the piano... "Spin It"... to which Dee would say, "No it's a grand".

You will be missed Sir

One more favor you can do for me... If your inspirational mentor is still alive, let them know how much they mean to you.
@gafftaper Save a horse, ride a cowboy seems appropriate.
Toodleoo!
Ron Hebbard
 

TimMc

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
It's hard to overestimate the influence our mentors have had on us - then we find ourselves using their techniques, language and stories as we train and mentor others. I never knew Dee but it sounds like I'd be a better tech if I had. Thanks for sharing your memories of him with us.
 

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