When Leslie Sobota was given the award last June for 30 years of volunteering with the Racine Theatre Guild, we were able to include a brief paragraph about her. But she merits much more than that. She was featured in the Callboard in 1993, when she appeared in The Cemetery Club. Much has happened to Leslie since then.
“I said it before, but my life has been enriched by being involved with the RTG,” Leslie says. “Above all, I’m grateful for my marriage to my husband Drew and the birth of my two children and my four grandchildren. I loved my years as a teacher. But after that I treasure the Theatre and all the experiences I have had on stage and off in volunteering with remarkable people and staff.”
From appearing as a newlywed in Bedroom Farce in 1981, to appearing as the Jewish grandmother in Crossing Delancy in 2000, Leslie has had a wide range of roles on stage. “I tended to gravitate toward comedies,” Leslie recalls. “There is nothing so wonderful as making a room full of people laugh. At first I didn’t know how to wait for the laughter, and I’d say my next line while the audience was still laughing. But Norm was a great teacher as well as director, and he taught me how to wait for the break in the laughs before delivering the next line.”
Leslie said it in 1993, and it is still true today: She loves being on stage and feels no fear portraying a character. She says you learn your lines and your blocking, and you just do it. But she was always terrified to do crew work, putting the right props in the right places, or calling all the cues in the booth.
“I stage managed one time,” she says, “for The Fantasticks. I was so afraid that I would not call the right cue at the right time, and that I’d die of a heart attack in the booth. I would think of Norm coming in and finding a dead body on the floor, with a hand reaching to the button for the next sound or light cue. I don’t think people appreciate the crew of every show and all the work that they do. They are the real heroes to me.”
Leslie and Drew have been usher crew chairs for almost 30 years, and Drew has supported Leslie in all of her theatre volunteering. He adds, “I had no idea that such a huge amount of people were needed back stage for every show before Leslie got involved with the RTG and opened my eyes. Imagine all the many unseen hands who are finding props, sewing costumes, building sets and much more. I appreciate every show that I see much more now that I know all the work involved.”
Leslie credits her husband Drew and her children Scott and Amy, for supporting her in her love of theatre. “I don’t know how I did it,” she recalls, “teaching all day and being at rehearsal every night, with two young children at home. Drew helped me learn lines and took over so much housework to let me pursue my volunteering at the RTG. My kids were interested in theatre and helped me run lines when they were younger. I am so proud of both of them now. Amy lives in Boston, is a pediatric oncologist and has two children. Scott is a teacher and soccer coach in Colorado, and he has two children. All along, Drew has been my rock, through all the hardships I’ve had. He is now my caregiver, and I rely on him for everything.”
That is Leslie’s reference to a number of tough events that have befallen her. She has dealt with epilepsy all her life. Then it was breast cancer, which after treatment went into remission, followed by a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 2005. In the middle of that, Drew and Leslie’s son was in a serious car accident that left him having to re-learn all the basic tasks of life, such as eating. Leslie flew to Colorado to be with him through the early part of his recovery.
Last year Leslie was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. “It’s the pits,” she said in a recent article in the Journal Times. “Your body fails you. You can’t do things you used to be able to do.”
But true to form, Leslie does not wallow in self-pity. She embarked on a “bucket list” of things she has always wanted to do. They seem to involve a certain amount of risk. She went up in a small plane with a pilot who let her take over the controls for a short time. Then she went skydiving, in a tandem jump with an instructor. She went to a shooting range and shot a gun. She is about to take a trip to Italy, where she wants to see the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s statue of David. (“But we plan to be back in time to see Lend Me a Tenor!” Leslie says.)
A recent ice bucket challenge, hosted by Drew and Leslie, held August 20, raised money for ALS and increased awareness of the disease.
“I will always be grateful for my times with the Theatre Guild,” Leslie says. “They really were some of the best years of my life. I feel if you truly love theatre, go ahead and audition, and volunteer with the crew, and get involved. You won’t regret one minute of your time, and you will gain a family – the RTG family. I have all those fond memories now.”
The RTG is lucky to have people like Leslie and Drew Sobota as part of its theatre family.