Dan Schay, former executive director of Theater Works in Peoria, Ariz., was my friend and colleague for more than 40 years. In February when I heard he had cancer, I had to believe that this man who had been part of my life since the early 1970s could beat the disease. And he made a valiant effort: The last email he sent a week before he died was full of optimism and hope—the cancer had not spread, and he was preparing to have surgery in May to remove the gastric tumor once this round of chemotherapy was finished. But his body couldn’t stand up to the chemo’s impact, and he left us on April 7 at the age of 63.
We went through so much together, starting our theatre careers at the beginning of the resident professional theatre movement and growing up in LORT (League of Resident Theatres), spending intensive weeks at the O’Neill Theatre Center with FEDAPT’s (Foundation for the Extension and Development of the American Professional Theatre) middle management program, driving through Pennsylvania for days on end consulting with theatre companies like Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, being on panels together, going to the same national conferences, being on union negotiating committees, sharing the frustrations and the joys of our theatre management jobs. On a personal level, I remember going to a Red Sox game in July with Dan at which we nearly froze; attending his marriage to Barbarain Newport, R.I., with my husband; rejoicing in his son Adam’s birth, exchanging Robert Parker’s Spenser books; watching him on “Jeopardy.” It was he who convinced me to move to Arizona because, as he put it, it was a place where anything was still possible. Throughout, I always knew that if I needed something, he’d be there for me, and he knew that I would be there for him.
My memories of Dan go back to the days when he was the managing director of the Hippodrome in Gainesville, Fla. He worked with eight artistic directors, which would have been a challenge for anyone. Perhaps that’s why the next position he took was as the producing director at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass., where he was able to put on both his management and artistic hats, which suited him perfectly. I remember that his office had a window that looked out over the stage so he could always be reminded of why he did what he did. He loved seeing the audience reacting to a play. It fed him. It made him want to pass that love of the theatre on to others, which he did for his entire career.
Dan’s impact on the Phoenix theatre community was tremendous. After his death, the postings on his Facebook profile were remarkable. Friends and family remarked that he “always lifted up others and walked with grace and unconditional love, generous of spirit, respectful, open-hearted, gracious, changed my life, talented, intelligent,” and the accolades go on.
One of the things I learned from these messages was that he would play a game with his colleagues: They would give him some outrageous word just before he went onstage to give the curtain speech and he would have to casually fit it into the speech. I’m sure it was with great glee that he found a way to do this, and apparently, they were not able to stump him very often. His sense of humor was something I cherished, and I can only imagine how much pleasure this game gave him.
When Dan met his wife, Barbara, his world shifted, and as much as he loved the theatre, she became the center of that world. It was wonderful to see how his life was enriched by her and how she supported him throughout the various professional changes that occurred over their years together. The birth of their son, Adam, 17 years ago brought him immense joy, and he relished being a father.
Theatre was Dan’s life passion, whether as a producer, director, actor, fundraiser, or senior manager. Throughout his career he focused on building relationships and partnerships between the arts and communities, growing audiences, and raising the profiles of the organizations for which he served. Multiple institutions benefited from growth and change under his leadership. Dan’s warm and engaging personality drew people in and created close personal connections. He will be missed as a mentor and friend.
Dan’s impact reaches far beyond the individual institutions for which he worked as he collaborated with many arts advocacy organizations, including FEDAPT and LORT. He was extremely proud of his positions on the boards of Arizona School for the Arts, Phoenix Boys Choir, Act One Foundation, and Alliance for Audience. He consulted nationally with many arts organizations and served as a site visitor for the National Endowment for the Arts for many years. In 2015, he had the distinct honor of being named a Piper Fellow by the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.
The last play Dan directed opened the day after he died. The show did indeed go on, which is what he would have wanted.
Jessica L. Andrews is the former managing director of Arizona Theatre Company, the Shakespeare Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Geva Theatre, and Hartford Stage Company. She was also the director of the theatre program at the National Endowment for the Arts and director of the theatre division at FEDAPT.