FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
On our first rehearsal for this production of Ann, costume designer Barry Doss shared an essay he had written which told not only of his interactions with the great woman herself, but also his connection to playwright Holland Taylor and the original Broadway production of the show – a production on which Barry had worked. The essay brought us all to tears and captured the soul of Ann Richards’s work in the world. So instead of my usual musings about our work, here is Barry’s beautiful essay.
Kenn McLaughlin, Artistic Director
When I was a senior at Central High School in my small hometown of Pollok, TX, I was elected president of the Student Council, and that year I was fortunate to travel to Austin for a student government convention. I was just excited at the idea of a road trip, but little did I know it would literally change the direction of my life. As president, I had the opportunity to be a part of a small lecture or “talk” with then Texas State Treasurer, Ann Richards. I still remember to this day some of the specifics she spoke about—knowing if you were a “things person” or a “people person” or a “little of both” and how knowing this would direct one’s career path and life endeavors. She also spoke of “self-responsibility”
and “not playing the blame game—if you wanted something in life, ‘no-one is going to do it for you, you gotta go for it’ - and ‘somedy you can look in the mirror and say, I made me what I am, I’m proud of it!’” She made it clear that she understood adversity, that challenges and
obstacles should be faced head on, and that the solution was inside—“find your strengths and talents and share them. That is how you make a difference in your life, and the world.” She was truly inspiring and had a way of instilling confidence in young people who were looking for a path. I was one of those young people, and after hearing her speak, much of the fear I had about what to do with my life was replaced with possibility. When I spoke at my high school commencement, Ann Richards was the person I chose to quote to inspire my fellow classmates.
Later in college, not long before she was elected Governor, I would once again have the opportunity to hear her speak. Many years after I moved to the East Coast and was fully pursuing my dream of working in professional theatre on Broadway, I became a part of a social network called Tex In The City. In 2003 the organization hosted the book-signing party for what would be Ann Richards’ last book, I’m Not Slowing Down. When my college buddy, Thom Clay, mentioned to me that the event was happening, I insisted we must attend. It was not difficult to convince him, as he was a big “Ann fan” as well.
It was a beautiful July summer day in NYC, and a group of young Texans and great admirers gathered late in the afternoon on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at Jean-Luc Restaurant to celebrate not only the book, but also the life of what was simply an incredible lady. Everyone was so excited to Ann and Barry Doss meet and spend time with her. Once she arrived, I watched as she strolled through the room, those icy blue eyes beaming into the faces of eagerly awaiting guests. One-by-one she spoke to every single person. I waited patiently, poising myself like a southern gentleman on the outside, but inside anxiously worrying that I might be passed by if the ceremony of the event started before she finished her hellos. My patience paid off and in time she made her way to me. “And where are YOU from,” she greeted. “I’m from a small town in East Texas near Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Governor Richards,” I responded. “HOW did you end up in New York City?” “Well,” I said, “when I was much younger, in high school, I heard this amazing woman speak in Austin one time. She was the State Treasurer, and it changed my life. I’m so happy to be here today and meet you again.” She listened, her eyes sparkling intently and when I finished, she blinked and nodded, “Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m so glad you’ve done well for yourself. I love Texas, but New York City is such a great place to be. I love having both in my life.” “So do I, Governor Richards, and I would never have made it here without hearing you speak. Thank you!” She nodded, shook my hand, and I felt my life come full circle in that moment as she floated away to the next guest. Eventually she made her way to the center of the room where we all stood round her and once more listened, captivated as she spoke, making us think a little deeper and laugh even harder! She spoke of her life and her recent challenges with aging and battling osteoporosis. Her tone was far less
political than in years before, but her rhetoric was powerfully charged and instilled with the magic message that life is for living...no matter your age. And I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to just say, “Thank you!”
Once again I find myself full-circle. How my life as a kid from hay-farming country would lead to a journey in the American theater, is an unlikely story for sure, but it would not be possible without many people who have impacted my education, the development of my skills and talents, and my self confidence. For that last one, I owe a lot to Ann Richards—she had a fire in her that was contagious and it ignited in me, “you CAN DO IT!” When I was approached about working on the new play, ANN, the answer was obvious, “Yes, I would love to be a part of telling her story!” So proud to be a part of this special piece of theatre, the amazing creative team and crew at Stages, and the incredible legacy of this great woman’s work and political journey. Thank you, once again, Ann Richards!
Barry Doss, Costume Designer
Ann and Bary Doss. Photo courtesy of Barry Doss.