Things Jim Houghton Said That I Wrote Down

Aug 3, 2016 by

photo credit: Jesse Dittmar for The New York Times

photo credit: Jesse Dittmar for The New York Times

Tonight, my little social circle is repeating, over and over, across the digital cosmos, the same two words: “My hero, my hero, my hero.”

“My hero is gone.”

“I’ve lost my hero.”

“He was my hero.  He changed my life.”

“So grateful to have known this man.  My hero.”

If you don’t know Jim Houghton’s work, I encourage you to read the beautiful feature about him published in the New York Times one month ago.

Many, many people knew him far better than I did.  Many, many people are dealing with grief tonight that is more personal, closer, more intimate than my own.  But I did know Jim Houghton, as an advocate and a mentor, for the two years I was a Juilliard.  What I know of him is this: in a world that values bottom lines, he valued playwrights.  Actors.  Community.  Human beings.  Not just for the length of a show, but for their careers, their entire lives. What I know of him is this: his illness was never a secret, it was never verboten to speak of, it did not cast a pallor over his enthusiasm and strength as the figurehead of the organizations he steered.  He lived every ounce of every single day, an inspiration to us all to the very last moment.

What I know of him is this: he very often said wise things, and I had the great good fortune to be in the room sometimes when he said them, and the lucky foresight to write them down.

I present to you now the Jim Houghton quotes I have written down, that I have often referred to and will continue to refer to in times of uncertainty.  I present them exactly as I transcribed them, without editorialization or comment.

What I know of him is this: he was a generous man.  He would want you to know these things, and believe them, and believe in yourself in the world, even in the world after him.

  • Go through the door that’s open, not the one you think should be open.
  • There is so much clarity looking backward, but few assurances looking forward.
  • Look for the moments when something drops in.
  • Plan for the future, but don’t get too far ahead of yourself.
  • Theatre is not owned by anyone more elevated than you.
  • Be so busy that you can’t get in your own way.
  • Don’t get so beaten up by the business that you build walls and isolate yourself and become bitter.
  • When you’re in a rehearsal room with a writer, anything can happen.
  • If you start a theatre company, it’s got to be about more than just hearing your own voices talk about how shitty and wrong everyone else is.
  • If you resent your “day” job, your artistic experiences will become less and less satisfying.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate.  Clarity is not ego.
  • Interest in something does not stake a claim that you think you’re the best at that thing.  So express interest without fear.
  • Have no shame about the clarity of your vision and your role.
  • Don’t try to come up with something that doesn’t exist.  Do what you want to do.  Follow your impulses.  Find your way.
  • Connect, collide, interact.
  • The idea you have in your head is a valid and good thing.

The idea you have in your head is a valid and good thing.

If you have more Jim-wisdom to share, please please please leave it in the comments below.

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  1. Jean Marcantel

    An inspiration to those who work at their dreams.

  2. Kristin Patton

    Thank you, so much for capturing and sharing Jim’s voice, wisdom and generous spirit through these quotes. They resonate and “Be so busy…” was exactly the beacon I needed in my current moment. Thank you! Thank you!

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