Paula J. Riley

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Art critic Leonard Thiessen
Paula J. Riley

July 10th, 2018!
July 10 is the 191st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 174 days remaining until the end of the year.
As I begin today's blog, I'm listening to Ed Ames sing Old Man River. Today is his birthday and what a fitting song as I embark on today's blog.
Drawing on the longstanding allure of rivers as existential metaphors, Bertrand Russell wrote:
Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. 
An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end,
without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

He went on to say, The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done. 

Writing my blog is pure pleasure. Sometimes, however, it is painful.
Those who know me know that I have said on more than one occasion that I have a heightened sense of how fragile our lives are.
I was reminded of that over the last two weeks, personally, on a major level.
'They' say that death comes in threes.
Broadway and film actress Liliane Montevecchi has also transitioned at the age of 85. RIP. 
That certainly proved true over the past seven days.
Three people that were part of my inner circle transitioned. One was not a TRUE friend but I did spend time with her and she seemed genuinely pleased to see me on those rare occasions when our paths crossed.
One was a Facebook 'friend', meaning that was the means by which we mostly communicated. One was a TRUE friend and I am going to miss the deep conversations we shared over the years.
I've been thinking a lot about friends lately and what that involves as far as meaning and purpose in my lives.
I'm there for my friends...or at least, I try to be. When that is not reciprocated, that hurts.
This is from my FRIEND, Angela Dirksen: On Sunday,  the theatre community lost a beautiful angel. I first met Paula over 10 years ago when I was asked to jump into a role for a show she was directing its through her that I met my dear friend, Richard Skipper. Many years later, I helped get her dream to a reality by becoming the Company Stage Manager for The Spiral Theatre Company. 
Her vision and dream were years in the making and I was honored to be a part of it. 

Certain people come into your life and you have no idea how, when, where you met them. That is not the case with Paula J. Riley.
I met her on August 8th, 2008. I have a vivid recall and I can run that day through my head like a movie.
I found Paula through Back Stage, the theatrical trade paper.
At the time, I had been performing for years as Carol Channing.
I was thinking, at the time, of putting all of that behind me and getting back to my roots as an actor.

I had a meeting earlier that day that I did not know at the time would change the trajectory of my life.

After that notorious meeting, I walked to 30 Park Avenue to meet Paula J. Riley, acting coach.

For a long time, I struggled away from my path, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do.

Both of these meetings on the hot, hazy, humid August day were to get me thinking about the next chapter of my life. Then, as now, I went through the motions, and what felt like every emotion, exhausting myself by taking a long way around while putting endless hard work into everyone else’s projects but my own.
Was I still an actor?
I was ready, willing, and able to let go of 'Carol Channing'.
Paula was very welcoming as we sat down to discuss where I was in my career, what I had done, and the future I envisioned. Paula had me sit on a comfortable sofa while she sat across from me in a small but comfortable room and made me feel very relaxed while she told me of her concept for a totally sustainable theatre that was to be called The Spiral Studio Theatre.

As ended up happening, I never did study with Paula but we became very good friends.
Over the years, we spent many holidays together. She was a frequent guest in our home and we were always there for each other dispensing advice as we both needed it.
Paula had a dream: a totally sustainable theatre in NYC. It was called The Spiral Theatre and these modules (pictured above in the flyer) could be rearranged to depict any scene or locale.
Over the past five years, I did several onstage interviews as benefits for The Spiral Theatre Studio. I interviewed Marge Champion, Lee Roy Reams, Penny Fuller, and Anita Gillette all to raise money for The Spiral Theatre. There was a richness to these interviews and celebrating their lives.
I would like to thank Steve Hill for providing the following through The Spiral Theatre Studio Website.

The truth was that Paula had everything she needed, even when perceiving lack. Paula died at 10:25 a.m. July 1, 2018 in New York City after a two year battle with lung cancer.
When she was first diagnosed she was given a life expectancy of six months to a year. About eight months ago she was submitted to hospice care with a diagnosis of weeks to a few months. Paula was a fighter and she loved life and was curious and passionate about every endeavor she undertook.
She was not going to abide by other peoples timetables.
Paula was eleven years old in 1954 and spending the summer at Esther’s Chicken Farm—a camp in
upstate New York—when she discovered her higher self. She often wondered away from the camp
activities and was walking down a winding dirt road. There was this great feeling about being surrounded by nature and listening to the wind in the trees, the sound of a babbling brook and the scraping of shoes on the dirt road. She was alone, but not alone. She felt a true sense of self and discovery. There was an awareness and a liking of you she was. This was the beginning of a feeling that would manifest throughout her acting and teaching career.
Miles of Smiles...and a few tears. 

A eulogy for Paula By Steve J. Hill

The Shadow of Your Smile
The first thing I noticed about Paula was her smile. 

It was wide and toothy. Her eyes would go into dark quarter moons and sparkle. 
She would also smile as she talked. I’m writing this opening from her bedside at her nursing facility. 

She doesn’t talk anymore. 
Which is especially cruel since she loved to talk…to anyone and everyone. The nurses and nurses-aids all love Paula and try to coax a smile out of her. 
On occasion, we will be on the receiving end of that smile. And when that happens, the room lights up. One of my nicknames for her was “P. J. Smiley”.

Paula never attended college. She had itchy feet and wanted to leave Queens, get a job and experience life in the big city. After all, this was the same Paula that would sneak out
of her bunk at summer camp to watch a young Jerry Herman practice his songs on the recreation room piano.
She would skip school and go into Manhattan to watch tapings of Who Do You Trust? hosted by a relatively unknown Johnny Carson—her first crush. She ran away from home at 17 by boarding a bus heading for Florida. Her younger sister spilled the beans to her parents and Paula was apprehended by the Highway Patrol somewhere in Georgia.

So entering the city at age 19 she began a long list of roommates, apartments, boyfriends, restaurant and secretary jobs along with a stable of dogs and cats.
Her father was Larry Best, a well-known Borsht belt comic. Paula always wanted to follow in Larry’s footsteps and win his approval by also being an entertainer.
Larry liked to be on the road and kept Paula’s mother—who was once in his act—at home “barefoot and pregnant.” Paula’s absentee father left indelible marks and she was always in search of a father figure.

Street smarts
Even though Paula never attended higher education I never met anyone smarter or well read. She was inquisitive and highly intuitional. She was an old soul in a pixie body. After high school, she began a long process of self-education. As I look now at her bookshelf I see: The Collected Works of Shakespeare and Selected Plays by George Bernard Shaw; An Actor Prepares by Stanislavski; Man and his Symbols and
Synchronicity by Carl Jung; Creativity and the Unconscious by Sigmund Freud; also books by Jean-Paul
Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Joseph Campbell. I see books by Mailer, Mamet and Melville, as well as The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, and The Art Spirit by Robert Henri.
Paula also read self-help books.
She would like to give and receive astrology readings, as well as those from Tarot Cards, I Ching, and Rune Stones. Basically, she was interested in everything.

Home Sweet Home
Paula and I never married in front of God and country, but she was my wife and my best friend. We lived and worked together in the same small apartment for 19 years. She was enough for me and when we adopted our dog Trouper, we were a real family.
Paula heard about a government housing assistance program. HFA offers tax-exempt financing to multifamily rental developments in which at least 20% of the units are set-aside for low-income residents … the so-called “80/20” projects. If a potential tenant meets certain requirements they can be considered for this program. Paula put in applications to many of these buildings.
Since thousands of people apply for just a handful of apartments it is on par with winning a big state lotto drawing. I did not put much faith in Paula’s efforts.
But lo and behold, we won this lottery. We were approved for a new apartment in a luxury Madison Avenue high-rise. We moved into the unit in March 2016. Paula was only able to enjoy our new home for a little over a year before her illness forced her to reside in various hospitals and nursing facilities. For as long as I live in New York City I will have this affordable apartment.

I have Paula to thank for this. This is just one more gift she gave to me.

Theatre life
Paula introduced me to the word of theatre. I was rather a shy, inhibited person so Paula made me join some of her classes so I could get out of my own way.
I took some of her seminar courses … ones that ended in performance in front of guests and invited industry. There was one such event where I flubbed my lines and went into a complete meltdown on stage. Later that night I walked the cold streets alone feeling horrible about blowing the performance. I thought that my actions would reflect badly on Paula’s teaching abilities. But when I entered the apartment at four o’clock in the morning Paula was waiting for me with kind words and hot coffee.
She said it was all a process of growing…how it happens to every actor and so on.
I realized then and there that acting was not my calling. I much preferred to help Paula in her plays by being a set designer, stage manager and creating the marketing promotions. And this I did for all of her productions. It was a true creative collaboration and my life is richer because of it.
But theatre can be a cruel mistress. When it works and everything comes together, it is a beautiful thing. But often theatre takes more than it gives. Paula’s productions never made money, but it never deterred her from moving forward. She was a total optimist and ran headlong into situations with naïve enthusiasm.
I’m thankful that I was able to help channel her many interests into a more focused plan.

Here’s a tissue
Yes, I was a quiet white-bread guy from Ohio. Paula was a gregarious New York Jewish mother, 10 years my senior. They say opposites attract and in this case it was all too true. 
Living together in such small quarters took some adjustments on both sides. We could argue about the big-ticket items like most couples. But we got on surprisingly well despite being together 24/7, and despite me leaving cabinet doors open and despite her placing boxes of tissues every few feet.
Ironically I’ve been thinking quite a lot about tissues recently. Ever since Paula was diagnosed with cancer my emotions are close to the surface and anything can make the tears come. 
Breaking down in front of people is sometimes embarrassing…for them. All they can say is— “I’m sorry”, or “Stay strong”, or “Here’s a tissue.” 
And I remember the day when Paula’s oncologist said that he could do nothing further for her, that he was going to stop chemotherapy treatments and recommended going into hospice care. Paula took it all in stride and was resigned and stoic. I, of course, broke down and started to cry. The doctor made a great ceremony about finding and unwrapping a fresh box of tissues. When he handed them to me I wanted to say—in a fit of miss-placed anger —“You know where you can put this box of tissues…and sideways!” Instead, I accepted them and said, “Thank you.”

Sweetheart, darling or honey
Anyone who knew Paula would soon be addressed as sweetheart, darling or honey. This was not a mere affectation, she generally felt endeared to a lot of people.

Anyone who knew Paula over time would be someone she would love. She would always say goodbye or end a phone conversation with “I love you.” 
I always found that strange because I probably said, “I love you” to only a dozen people in my life. For Paula, this too was not a mere affectation; she genuinely loved a lot of people.
      In the last few months, I found myself picking up the mantle and addressing certain people as, sweetheart, darling or honey. Not mere affectation but feeling heartfelt towards people and expressing that in the same way Paula did. Maybe I’m channeling Paula after she stopped talking ... or shes' rubbed off on me over the years.

End song
In this journey with Paula, I’ve seen sadness and acts of true grace. I’ve witnessed wonderful caregivers,
bureaucratic pencil pushers learned doctors with no bedside manner and nurses aids that lifted my spirits with the attention they bestowed on Paula.
     What do I draw from all this dying stuff?  Who knows?  I guess I would like to speak with someone who’s in charge. But so far I’ve not found that person. I would like to have an audience with the master designer and tell him/her that their design is seriously flawed and needs work.
     Maybe my future outlook can be summed up in the last line from the book Bang the Drum Slowly, — “From here on in, I rag nobody.”

Post Script
A short time before Paula passed I was cleaning up her computer when I saw this document on the desktop. I clicked on it and this is what it said:

Dearest Steve,
If you are reading this, I am no longer physically here. First, know that I love you and always will.
I know you’re struggling at this time and I want to make it easier and natural to soften the blow.
Know that I will always be as close or far as you prefer me to be.
I wish you love— of all kinds. Love of people, love of life, but most importantly—love of yourself.
I dare you!
You’ll find some incredible and exciting newness you never knew existed if you just “jump without a net”… why not?
It’s cliché, but it’s only when you are truly faced with losing life, that you really appreciate it. I know this.
I’m a whisper away…

Yes the tears came, but then … I saw her smile.
Thank you, Paula, for the gifts you gave to the world and will continue to give
Please visit for more info. 
Now, go and do something nice for someone without expecting anything in return!

Thank you all for A Great Season!

Russ Woolley Proudly Presents
Richard Skipper Celebrates
Enjoy your Summer!

We Return September 9th for Our third Season!

1 PM Brunch Show Laurie Beechman Theater

We will be celebrating with Bob Diamond, Meg Flather, Doreen Montalvo, Zachary Stains, and Lisa Viggiano. All under the Musical Direction of Tracy Stark with Tom Hubbard on Bass!
Tickets Go on Sale August 9th! Let's Celebrate! 

With music, reminisces and an afternoon of fun and show business! 90 minutes of merriment and excitement. .As we Celebrate the Present, we Honor the Past! 
When and Where:
Sunday, September 9th - 1 PM, Doors open 12:15

THE LAURIE BEECHMAN THEATRE, 407 West 42nd Street (lower level of the WEST BANK CAFE) 
Producer: Russ Woolley 
$30 ticket plus $20 food/beverage minimum - exquisite and reasonably priced food and drink. 

Richard Skipper has assembled a great cast to Celebrate and honor . . . RICHARD SKIPPER has become synonymous with "feel good entertainment of the highest quality". For decades Richard has entertained thousands and celebrated the careers of many of Theatre Row’s finest and most honored stars… The afternoon will prove to be an event where all will arrive and leave with smiles! This will be similar to the old-fashioned TV specials and series where we get to chat with and honor this Entertainment Icon. 

A Few Audience Testimonials about Richard Skipper Celebrates
Dear Richard and Russ :-) 

I want you to know - really KNOW - what a wonderful gift you gave me in having me perform in your Pride show :-)  To sing in that beautiful setting (the Laurie Beechman) 
with that fabulous band (Matthew Martin Ward - piano, Rex Benincasa - percussion, Erik Lawrence - sax, 
Steve Doyle - bass) and that super-nice audience - so happy, upbeat and warm... This truly was a 
dream-come-true for me - like walking through a very cool movie :-) but it's real!! 

I thank you both from the absolute rock bottom of my heart and I'll always treasure 
the commemorative mug you made for the show :-)
I can't stop smiling and you are the culprits :-)
Sheree Sanoo

Loved your show! Looking forward to a new season!
-Bea Sonnenshein

Thank you for your wonderful shows, Richard! They truly are celebrations and bring much joy! Looking forward to September 9th when you return for Season 3!
-Kati Neiheisel

The show is also made possible by Wright Bros. Real Estate. 

With grateful XOXOXs,


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Richard Skipper,