Lloyd Norton: A name that will live on in Greeley

Editor’s note: Today we debut a new weekly feature on the DCPA NewsCenter: A guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email jmoore@dcpa.org.

By Bryan VanDriel
For the DCPA NewsCenter

Probably the most unique aspect of Lloyd Norton’s personality was the way he related to others. He could carry on a conversation with anyone, and he genuinely cared about everyone he met. To his students, he was part teacher, part advisor, part mentor and part counselor. But mostly he was a friend.

I first came to UNC in 1976 as a student in the theatre program. By that that time, Lloyd was long established as a member of the faculty, having started teaching classes in acting, directing and stage make-up in 1963. In my experience, most college professors with a dozen years of experience have developed somewhat of an attitude – they are confident, and they make the rules. They are large and in charge.

Lloyd Norton.

While Lloyd had the expected confidence, he was unlike other members of the faculty.  He was completely approachable. He loved a good laugh; whether he was laughing at the scripted humor in an acting scene, the antics of his students, or his self-deprecating humor, he was seldom without a smile.

It was a different era back then, and most – if not all – members of the theatre faculty smoked, sometimes even in class. Lloyd was no exception, and a cigarette was a fixture in the corner of his mouth. He used it as a teaching lesson, explaining in Stage Make-up class that he had more pronounced “crow’s feet” on his left eye than his right eye, because it was on that side where he carried his burning cigarette, so that eye instinctively squinted just a little bit in self-protection mode. I doubt there are many students who took make-up from him that will ever forget what a nasolabial fold is, or how to properly accent it in the aging process. His lessons stuck with us.

One of the things I remember most fondly about Lloyd is how he gave chances to underdogs. When his cast lists came out, there were always a handful of surprises. Because of the knowledge he had gained in his numerous one-on-one sessions with his advisees (there was almost always someone with him during his office hours), he knew who could handle a challenge, who needed to be stretched and who deserved a chance when no one else was willing to provide one.

I worked with Lloyd as a student, as a colleague (after graduation, I joined the theatre department staff for several years), and as a critic in my recent role as theatre critic for the Greeley Tribune. I have seen dozens of shows he was involved with, in many different venues. Among the constants were his humility and his deflection as the focus of attention, always preferring to talk about someone other than himself. He was quick with an anecdote, but never as a way of taking credit for the actions of others.

My final visit with him, as he was in the final days of his battle against lung cancer, he twice attempted to defer attention away from himself, first asking about my granddaughter’s struggle with a brain tumor and later about an arts scholarship program I started several years ago. It just seemed that he wasn’t comfortable as the center of attention – an odd position for a man who spent the better part of his life as a character actor.

One unique aspect of my relationship with Lloyd is that in the 39 years I knew him, he raised his voice with me exactly one time. (This is not the forum to discuss that one time, but hit me up in person sometime, and I will share that story).  Anyone who has worked in the high-pressure, high-stakes world of performing arts would probably understand how remarkable that lack of confrontation is. I’m sure I gave him multiple opportunities to be frustrated with me, particularly when I designed what may have been the most uninspired set in theatrical history for his production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  But he always preferred to look forward instead of back, and he just moved on.

Lloyd’s Facebook page has been packed the past couple of weeks with stories from individuals around the world sharing stories of the impact he made on their lives.  Jewelry he made as presents; opening-night gifts he hand crafted; life lessons he taught to the unsuspecting. Until I read these, I had completely forgotten that he used to take my wedding ring home about once a year, buff out any scratches, clean it, and return in to me in like-new condition the next day.

My favorite memory is of him performing in 2012 as an aging, injured Civil War veteran in the musical Parade, belting out “The Old Red Hills of Home” in his namesake theatre at the University of Northern Colorado.

I fondly remember the night 20 years ago when the Norton Theatre was dedicated in his honor, and I had a chance to tell him how happy I was that, unlike some of his colleagues, he could retire while he was still healthy, so he could enjoy life to the fullest with his family and friends. Little did I suspect that he would spend the majority of those 20 remaining years exactly as he had the first 57 years – sharing his enormous talents with every person he met.

Lloyd Norton: Biography and service information
Lloyd Norton was Professor Emeritus of Theatre Arts at the University of Northern Colorado, having taught there for over 30 years.  He was the founder of See Saw Theatre for the Deaf, and a member of the American Association of Community Theatre and Alpha Psi Omega.  Upon his retirement from UNC in 1995, the small black-box theatre space on the campus was named the Norton Theatre in his honor.  He continued to perform in regional and dinner theatres around Northern Colorado until recently.  He died May 18 at Hospice of Northern Colorado inpatient unit after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.

A public memorial service, “Lloyd’s Strike Party,” will be held from 2-5 p.m. on  Saturday, June 6, in Langworthy Theatre, located in Frasier Hall,  9th avenue and 17th Street, on the UNC Campus.

About our guest columnist:
Bryan VanDrielBryan VanDriel is the theatre critic for the Greeley Tribune.  He earned a BA and MA from UNC in Theatre Design, and has served as the Technical Supervisor for UNC Performing Arts, Technical Services Coordinator for Union Colony Civic Center and is currently the Operations and Technology Manager at the UNC University Center.  He is also the founder of the Arts Alive! Scholarship Fund through the Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County.

Our next Guest Columnist:

Creede Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Jessica Jackson reflects on the company’s impending 50th anniversary season.

Be Our Guest:
The DCPA offers a weekly guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email jmoore@dcpa.org.