Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Frank Benge for his twenty plus years with Sam Bass in various capacities.
He served on the SBTA Board both as President and Marketing for numerous productions. He directed the countless shows and acted in many more.
This is what the Sam Bass Theatre posted on its website to honour Frank Benge. It's sort of a tag, under a joyous paean to their Volunteer of the Year. I certainly don't mean to denigrate the recipient of that recognition, because I know that Sam Bass runs on volunteers, and will not exist without them.
But about Frank: could their statement be any more generic?
Even I don't remember exactly when Frank landed at Sam Bass, but it was somewhere in the early to mid 1990s. The first show I recall him directing was Hot L Baltimore, which endeared him to me right away. I had never heard of the show, but it was edgy and dark and brilliant, and I loved it.
The first show I costumed for him was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He told me, "Each of these characters represents one of the seven deadly sins, and I need them dressed accordingly." I had never costumed like that before. Usually, it was our practice to scrounge up whatever would fit (or could be made to fit), look period, and not clash with the set. Here was an entirely new concept. His vision for this show was absolutely stunning! He designed his own set. Brick and Cat's bedroom became a cage. It was brilliant, and only a taste of what would follow.
Like the authors of the tribute above, I can't list all the shows he has directed or acted in, but I can name a few highlights. He directed Table Settings twice, and it was excellent both times. His Chalk Garden was beautiful and moving. He was never afraid to tackle plays that should have been impossible on the tiny stage at Sam Bass. The Women was one such, and Harold and Maude, another. They succeeded brilliantly, and they are still discussed by those who acted in them and those who saw them, to this day.
As to his acting...who can forget his Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner, or his Judge/Caiaphas in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot? Never mind Teddy in Arsenic and Old Lace, or Dottore in A Company of Wayward Saints. He has the depth to do the hard roles, such as Roberto Miranda in Death and the Maiden, and the comedic timing to absolutely kill Inspector Pratt in Murdered to Death.
He guided the Board of Directors at Sam Bass through some perilous times, and his work in publicity put our tiny theater on the map. Sam Bass had always been respected for doing good theatre, but he was the one who got the greater public and critics to notice us.
Frank has been through a lot with his health in the past couple of years, and some issues are still ongoing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he is currently in hospital, and will be for some time to come.
I certainly hope that, when they finally get around to actually presenting him with his Lifetime Achievement Award, it will come with a better summary of his lifetime achievement than that posted on the website.