My friend Cliff Ash died yesterday. He was as gentle and kind a spirit that you would ever meet. Unfailingly he supported and made better anyone in his presence. It’s just the way he was.
A friend called to let me know he had found Cliff in his apartment above the Harrisburg Improv Theatre. I don’t have any formal information on the cause but I do know Cliff was in the hospital in February to address his heart arrhythmia and had lost 100 pounds since the beginning of the year.
I got up early this morning to write, but have been sidetracked combing through photos and videos of Cliff. I also went through the 70 texts he and I exchanged since I visited in the hospital and the quarantine shutdown started. Our shared journeys with ‘anxiety’ issues have been pronounced over the past 8 weeks and relied on each other to reach out and check in with one another.
I’m still trying to process this. It’s as if I have been so numbed by the daily Covid-19 death count that I forgot there are other reasons people can die. I am in shock. The world does not feel right today. I don’t know what the cause was, but I know this familiar ache of losing a loved one. I love Cliff Ash. I will always remember the feel of his love and support for me.
I put on a pot of coffee this morning and am using the two coffee mugs Cliff made for me when he decided to take a pottery class. Our inside joke from the very beginning of our relationship is that our challenge is to keep trying new things that we suck at. By Cliff’s own description, pottery was one of those challenges. One of the mugs is to commemorate my first team, Spank’d. The second has a saying written on it that perfectly describes Cliff’s ethos: “If we treat each other like geniuses, poets, and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage”.
Cliff and I met in April 2015. We were the “old white guys” in an early level 1 Class at Harrisburg Improve Theatre (HIT). More than double the age of most of our classmates, we were two fish out of water commiserating and supporting one another, sharing how out-of-touch we felt with over 25 years of social references we just didn’t understand. In this vein Cliff served as an artistic counselor and therapist for me those times I wasn’t on somebody’s sofa in a nondescript brick building. With Cliff I always found the joy and acceptance in my slogging. I can never over emphasize the power of his willing ear and laughing, loving heart in helping my own healing process.
Over the past 5 years Cliff and I have done dozens of scenes together on stage. Together we’ve played astronauts marooned in space, fishing buddies, father and son, boardwalk punks getting scammed by Zoltar the fortune teller, and co-created a business “Gnomes-R-Us”. Cliff held my hand while I gave birth/delivered every flag from South America. Yes, you can say we’ve had quite the run of unusual life experiences. Cliff always found a way to support his scene partners and I likely benefitted as much or more than anyone.
Cliff was the real energy and lead behind finding our “Elderprov” team. Cliff once opined during a show that had some political bent, “You may think you’ve got it bad with Trump, we had to live through Nixon!” It was a brilliant mix of empathy, perspective and wisdom. Cliff always made all of us better by him being on stage.
The genius of Cliff’s on-stage performance is rooted in his pure humanity. He understood what resonates with the audience, and playmates as well, are honest reactions to our contrived on-stage circumstances. We took a “Character” class at the Theatre where a key exercise was for one student to be silent/still in a coma, while the other person came in and reacted with a monologue. Cliff held his partners hand for a minute, then leaned in a put his forehead up to his scene partners head. Without saying a word Cliff’s compassion and empathy drew tears from everyone in the theatre before he ever said a word.
True emotion delivers pure comedy. Cliff knew that.
Off the improv stage Cliff was prolific as well. He, Sarah Scholl and I recorded a series of podcasts titled “Between the Relics”. We also launched a presidential campaign. Cliff MC’d a local film festival, made movies, took formal acting classes, performed in plays, operated the sound booth, and taught classes. He was a fixture at the theatre that everyone, EVERYONE, loved.
Getting on stage to make stuff up takes a lot of courage. I could never have been as involved as I am in the improv community if it weren’t for Cliff Ash. I love him and will miss him. He always made me feel like a genius, a poet and an artist. Always. Every time.
Aside from Leigh, Cliff has always been my biggest fan on this improv journey and I will miss him dearly. What I hope to remember about Cliff: He was an insanely intelligent, creative, energetic and genuinely kind, loving soul.