Earlier this week, at the 13th annual City Pulse Pulsar Awards ceremony, actress Carmen Decker was given special recognition for her significant contributions to Greater Lansing theater. Decker was a force in local theater for decades, best known for her performances with the now defunct BoarsHead Theatre. For the ceremony, playwright and fellow BoarsHead alum Kristine Thatcher wrote a tribute to Decker, which is re-printed below:
I want to thank Ty Forquer for inviting me to pay tribute to the life and career of Carmen Decker at tonight’s Pulsar Awards. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there in person to deliver this message myself, but I am extremely honored by the chance to jot down my memories about this amazing woman. She is highly deserving of a lifetime achievement award and acknowledgment of all she has done for this community.
I have had four great teachers in my lifetime. people who contributed most to shaping my life, so that I could become the best possible person I could ever be. These are the four who not only taught me all the tricks of the acting trade, they also taught me the ethics that make life worth living. It may come as no surprise to you that three of these teachers were associated with the BoarsHead Theater. They were John Peakes, Richard Thomsen, and, of course, Carmen Decker. Once I started working with these three great people I was hooked. In fact, at the time, I had a full scholarship to attend Eastern University, and I gave it up to continue to work with these them. I often wondered if I would ever regret this decision. Turns out I never did.
Carmen was the most modest and the friendliest of the four. I was lucky enough to share the stage with her many times, and she always blew me away. She has a simple, straight-forward style, so honest that with one gesture, one look, or one unexpected line, she could bring the house down with riotous laughter or create a silence that would break your heart. Here’s how her modesty came in to the picture: she claimed she never knew exactly how she did it. She would shrug at my questions. I remember she could cry on cue, real tears, if the script required it. I once asked her how that was possible, and she answered, “I don’t know exactly. It’s like a faucet. I just turn on the tears, and then, when it’s time, I turn them off.”
I was stunned by that. It took me a few years to understand what she was doing. The longer you live, the more you fill up the well with life experience, both good and bad. When the well is full, you turn on the faucet and the tears flow. I was too young at the time to understand what she meant but I never forgot what she said.
From her sterling performances in Lion in Winter back in the Ledges Playhouse days, to Kimberly Akimbo in the Stormfield days, I was able to observe her work and ethics for decades. And most of the time, I was lucky enough to be able to do it from five or six feet away, sharing the stage with her.
Carmen is also one of the best and most generous friends I’ve ever had. Whenever I sink into the realm of sadness or self-pity, I can always rely on her common sense and laughter. Her laughter is so contagious that I always leave her company with renewed appreciation for my friends, for my experiences, for my life!
Even as I write this, I have a play I’m writing that I want her to be the first to read aloud. Why don’t a few of us get together and go over to Burcham Hills Rehab and break her out!
In closing, it is through the art of the theater, we examine our beliefs, our morals, and our own lives in great detail. Carmen is a high priestess of the theater, and deserves our respect and our love.
The thing about the theater that is different from the other arts is that it is ethereal. A painter has his sketches, drawings and paintings. A writer has her manuscript and her publisher. A sculptor has his statues and monuments. Concrete evidence. The theater artist has no such thing. When all is said and done, the set is struck, the sound is gone, the lights are taken down. For the actor, all we have is your memory. We rest in your memory only. But that’s a good thing. It’s pristine. And Carmen Decker will rest in our memories as long as we live. And for that, we should all be extremely grateful.