Some years ago I was asked to audition for a stage play called Extremities. It was hot on Broadway with Susan Sarandon in the lead, and Elite Productions was mounting it here in Montreal.
The play, by William Mastrosimone, is about a construction worker who goes into a house and attacks a young woman. She overcomes him by spraying a can of bug spray into his eyes, knocking him out, and dragging him to an empty fireplace where she ties him up.
I worked on the audition with an actor selected for me by Elite. The piece that had been chosen for us was the most violent part of the play, an attempted rape. Later that evening, I received a call from the actor saying he had to pull out of the audition. Why? - Because he couldn't cope with being so violent all day, every day for the three weeks of rehearsals and for another three weeks during the evenings of performance.
The actor's name was Michael Rudder.
Michael was shot in Mumbai a couple of weeks ago - and those shots resounded with horror throughout the acting community here in Montreal. For those who might think this trip was a fleeting moment with Michael, it wasn't - he has always been a gentle soul, searching out that which is spiritually enlightening. It's what guides him through the ups and downs of being a performer here in Montreal. It is his way of life.
I saw Michael just before he left for Mumbai. He was enthusiastically looking forward to the trip and meeting some friends there, one of them a father and daughter. When questioned on the sanity of being in a somewhat unstable area of the world, he insisted that it was 'safe' and that he wasn't worried because he would be staying in a good hotel. Certainly others in the acting community have made this same trip and have had little cause to worry.
When a reporter contacted me on the morning following the attacks and asked if I knew the Michael Rudder in Mumbai who had been shot the night before, an actor and a student of yoga, I was stunned beyond measure. This just doesn't happen to people like our Michael – it couldn't be him, could it? But the likelihood of there being another actor in Montreal, that studied yoga, that had the same name was ... well, lets face it...no way!
Michael is so intrenched in the study of meditation and yoga that it would have been futile to try and stop him from going - Anymore than the violence in Ireland would have stopped me from visiting the country that has always brought me to that peaceful place within myself - Anymore than the extended violence that broke out in London would have prevented me from studying acting there in the early 80s - What is one expected to do? Hide, crawl inside oneself and let the entire world fight it out? Some do, of course, thinking that's where they'll find peace – and many wither away doing just that, with no understanding of the world about them, other cultures, religions, social priorities - no acceptance of other worldly 'reasonings' that appear so different from ours.
No! It is far better to continue with life – search out the good in mankind and, in some cases, go where you think you can find or share a bit of peace with people.
That is our Michael – and how typical of him to stand up and walk towards the noise of gun fire to search out the problem, unwittingly opening himself up to attack!
All of the above makes Michael the extremely talented and insightful actor that he is. He was nominated for a Genie for his work in Buying Time in 1989, has been in numerous television shows and has graced the stage in both professional theatres in Montreal and those across Canada – and has directed and dubbed many cartoon voices!
I was recently asked by a reporter what effect this traumatic experience would have on Michael. I am willing to bet that, although there will always be a psychological scar, overtime he will continue his search for a better understanding of himself and his place in the scheme of better things to come.
Michael will live his life exactly the way he did before. Peacefully, intuitively, giving of himself to his friends and to the profession he so proudly serves. And we will be here for him.
Come home quickly, Michael. We can hardly wait.