Penn alum Harold Prince (COL ’48) passed away on July 31st at age 91. Prince was a legendary theater producer and director, responsible for such classics as West Side Story, Cabaret, Company, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Parade and many many others.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Harold Prince about ten years ago right here on campus. He had come, as he did on more than one occasion, to speak to the Penn community about his career and take questions from students. I had the additional luck of attending a reception after and I recall the twinkle in his eye as he reunited with some of his fellow classmates, by then all in their mid-80s, but giggling in the way that only friends from undergrad do.
During his Q&A session, I asked him what made a good book to a musical, since he had previously said it was the most important ingredient. “I don’t know,” he said, “I just know that if you don’t have a good one, you’re dead.” Back at the reception, I introduced myself as the person who asked about books, explaining that I had just been published as playwright for the first time by Samuel French, Inc. His eyes lit up and he suddenly seemed ten years younger, throwing his arm around me: “ME TOO! I wrote one play and it’s with Sam French! Keep it up. Don’t stop!”
I could have lived in that moment forever. Here was a living legend, tossing his arm around me as if we were absolute peers. I’ve carried that gratitude with me since then and I hope that I’ve been able to pass that on. I’m no Hal Prince, but I’ve been lucky in my career and I feel I owe it to those striking out on a similar path to make them feel welcome and encourage them, as Mr. Prince did for me, to not stop.
No matter what your career path, I ask today that you follow in the steps of Harold Prince. Be bold in your ventures, be kind in their execution and be supportive of those who want to follow in your footsteps.