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  • Meighan Leibert

Family Legacy

By definition, Family Legacy is accomplishments, beliefs, actions and guidance demonstrated that carry forward to future generations in a fashion which allow those family members to adopt and adapt them to make their lives meaningful and fruitful.


Thank you dad!


Losing him at 17, after watching him deteriorate for years, was almost too much confusion for my young being to process. And I will admit, quietly, that I made it through by the skin of my teeth.


I remember Michael Leibert as a gentle man who loved to read, cook and tell stories. I am not sure I will ever really know all the wonderful he created. A few friends from his acting/directing days have shared with me the initial integrity and dedication he orchestrated in The Theater that would eventually become The Berkeley Rep. One wrote:"Your dad had more than a wee bit of Irish magic about him. He had the ability to bring talent together and the foresight to let them create without blocking their growth with micromanagement. He had little to offer in the way of salary or fancy resources. For those who understood his philosophy of theater (that it is the performance that communicates the truth), it was an exciting challenge, a thrill, a calling - to make something out of nothing. Those who got it bonded in joy. "


When I was pregnant with Ocean, I went to the BRT on Addison Street with my 1 year old son, Zander to meet with Susan Medak. This was 24 years after dad died and I was absolutely

gung-ho to fill in some of the blanks. Susan gave me a short list of contacts to further my quest and I immediately became paralyzed. What would I say, exactly? I had no idea.


Dad founded the Theater in the late 60's. One friend wrote: "Suffice it to say that we – the U.S. - were in the Vietnam War and it was hitting young people very hard. There was a draft, meaning that all young men were called to the military; not showing up or having a legitimate excuse was treason. A male student was allowed to finish college, but as soon as his grades were in, he was required to enter military service. We watched our friends being scooped up and sent away. Coming home in body bags. It was terrifying, especially for those of us who understood the underpinnings - i.e. that the true purpose of the war was not democracy but grabbing control of resources. Michael's dedication to The Prodigal was a political statement about the glory of war and the hideous consequences of it. He was speaking out against war in his choice of play. "


We all need and use different mediums to help us process reality. Living it sometimes is not enough as we are limited to a singular perspective. Sometimes we feel compelled to send a message in response. Impressions can assist our understanding. My dad put something in motion, he actualized a passion for drama and delivered. He chose a collective environment of talented people to convey what he thought important and he trusted them to do it well. I remember that 100 seat playhouse on College Avenue and watching the stage come to life often. The audience was a component, we were all in it together, living and breathing the story. It was special. Everyone was affected and we are still adapting his legacy today. I am proud and intrigued.


Today, 35 years after he died, I take my kids to see plays produced at their grandpa's theater. It is meaningful, educational, entertaining and fun. Last night we went to see Paradise Square, a fantastic musical retelling a time from the past that has relevance today. Who can resist a history lesson on stage set to song? Not me, that's for sure. We were all blown away.


Paradise Square was written by Larry Kerwin, he 'reimagined' Stephen Foster's music and created a fantastic story set to song and dance. The intensity was magnificent. Historical setting: In January 1863 president Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In March of that same year, he ordered a Federal Draft. Five Points in Paradise Square was home to Irish, Italian, and Chinese immigrants, Jewish, free Blacks and southern slaves on the run. Together they formed an alliance, a collective bond that would lay the groundwork for tap dance and Vaudeville. African rhythm and Irish step dancing merged together along with interracial marriage and offspring. People, working together and expressing themselves creatively. That's what we do, us humans.


The demands of war propagate adversaries on many fronts. Here, in this story, the draft includes newly immigrated Irish but not African Americans (born on American soil). Tough times with job scarcity only heighten fears. Being forced to fight for a land that does not yet feel like home can make you crazy. The New York Draft Riots were in direct response to this unfairness and remain the deadliest of riots in US history.


The performances delivered WOW! Great writing, acting, music, dance, set design...we loved it... sitting on the edge of our seats the whole time. Moved to tears, to deep discussion and to absolute wonder at the magic of combined effort.


As I resist my urge to stay solitary, to initially solve my problems alone, I embrace this concept of collaboration. We need each other in many ways, alone is absurd. (And I know this is a point of contention for many). My son said it best, of this production: "My favorite part was the end, when they all work together to save the building." I don't know why so many of us have it deeply ingrained to isolate, but I can tell you this, when I share my struggle, solution shows up.


We were five in our group, ages: 63, 52, 49, 12 and 11. Some of us have more experiences to influence our interpretation than others. The younger ones struggle with understanding racism and society's need to separate out 'other'. My 11 year old said it simply: "My favorite part was the end, when she says to burn it all down because she did not care anymore. She knows who she is and where she comes from and her community is her family, the building is just that. My other favorite part was all the dancing." My 12 year old, was not as verbose: "Racism sucks. It's such a waste of time. Hate hurts. And what's the big deal anyway?"


Humans have great capacity to do horrible and atrocious. As well as the opposite, we can really generate fantastic and wonderful. We have an amazing creative abundance, we are surrounded by all of it, the good and the bad.


"That was pure gold!"





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