Encounter with Hilary Kilbourn

I posted a press release earlier this week, concerning someone who passed through my life briefly. One paragraph in particular caught my eye:

About The Hilary Kilbourn Memorial Fund

Hilary continues to cast her spell over the Island through good works funded by the Hilary Kilbourn Memorial Fund. This fund was initiated by her family upon Hilary’s death in 2006. Contributions from the Fund have been made to Shadowland Theatre to support programming for Island youth. The Fund enables wonderful concerts to be offered at the church.

I was saddened to hear of her death: a decade ago.

I looked up her obituary.

Our paths crossed long ago. I saw her audition for a play in 1977, without ever speaking to her.

At the time I was one of the musicians working on a production of a work by Auden & Isherwood called The Dog Beneath the Skin, Michael Sidnell’s first show as director of the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama. It was done in a style that Brecht and Weill would have liked, with lots of outsized props and artifice, including songs in a popular style.

There was already quite a wonderful band creating songs for the show, so they shouldn’t have needed me: except for one puzzling little segment of the play. The text explicitly calling for something resembling Wagner opera, and so I was brought in to attempt the reconstruction. And that’s a whole other story, a really fun story I might tell another time.

But my small part in this show was the reason I was present for a magical moment during an audition. It was someone who was not eventually cast. Of course I mean Hilary Kilbourn.

If I recall correctly there was some reading but also a kind of an improvisation, reacting to an empty picture frame hung upstage. The actor was asked to walk by and then their response should help us to see what was there, to feel their responses.

Hilary Kilbourn made me believe she saw something divine in that blank frame. She walked by, then turned, and saw something profound. Afterwards she would explain to us what she’d seen, a kind of allegorical glimpse of the miraculous that she enacted for us as though she were Joan of Arc in the midst of a visitation from above.

I was young, perhaps easy to impress (still am I think). All I know is that if, at that moment, she had asked – no commanded—me to take up arms against the English I would have done so readily.

I felt drunk watching her perform.

And when she didn’t get cast I challenged the director, surprised.

But I realize that he was sensitive to her. Hilary had bipolar disorder, although i only understand this now, reading the obituary.

I had shouted at the director, asking why Hilary wasn’t cast, asking whether Hilary was too good to be cast.

He shouted “no of course not” right back at me.

I was young and foolish (as in the song). I think the purpose of the exercises in the audition was to see how well they would take direction. Gifted though she was, this was an ensemble production, and I believe he could feel her estrangement, as she wandered the stage as if in a beautiful trance.

Years later, everyone has gone on to other things, some of that wonderful team have passed away. It’s curious that I can’t help recalling that brief encounter with Hilary as a sign of a future even though she’s gone.She had some very special talents.

I can’t help feeling we will meet again.

This entry was posted in Dance, theatre & musicals, Personal ruminations & essays, Spirituality & Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Encounter with Hilary Kilbourn

  1. Chris Malcolm says:

    You were right. Whatever her diagnosis, Hilary met the world with a sensitivity that was sensitive to the world around her. Had the director placed faith in her she would have risen to the occasion and you would have seen her take Compiegne and the entire Central Library Theatre. Thanks for reminding me of her glorious spirit.

  2. barczablog says:

    Thanks Chris. If you had the chance to know her at all, i’m envious.

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