Close to 100 alumni surprised performing arts and cinema studies teacher Ted Walch Monday night by singing and dancing for him at the announcement of the establishment of a Ted Walch Endowed Chair for Performing Arts and Cinema Studies.
The $1.5 million endowment, President Rick Commons said, will help the school bring and keep “the best and most inspiring teachers.”
Actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson made an appearance to thank Walch on behalf of parents of students he has taught.
“If you learn, teach,” Hanks said, quoting the late author and poet Maya Angelou.
“If you get, give.” Hanks commended Walch for doing just that. “And great teachers watch ‘Jeopardy!’ every night and make damn fine Yorkshire pudding,” Hanks added.
Walch thought he was going to dinner at Spago with his former student and current upper school faculty colleague Adam Howard ’93, who drove him into the upper quad, on the ruse that they were going to pick up Dean Sharon Cuseo to go to dinner with them. Producer Marc Platt (Samantha ’01, Jonah ’04, Hannah ’08, Ben ’11, Henry ’17) was waiting outside Rugby, to Walch’s surprise, and told him that some donors had raised money for an endowed chair in his honor.
“Good God!” Walch shouted in response. “Good God!”
Video cameras followed Walch as he was led toward Rugby Theater, hugging former students who had lined up to greet him along the way.
More who had come to celebrate Walch filled Rugby, watching him walk toward the theater on a screen. Over 150 others watched from off campus through a live-stream broadcast, communicating with each other through a chat window next to the picture.
The Rugby crowd roared when Walch made it to the theater. Walch greeted former president Tom Hudnut and his two brothers, who had flown in to surprise him.
Alumni from classes from 1999 to 2013 lined up on stage to start an original song calling Rugby Theater “a temple” and Walch “the god of comedy, tragedy, philosophy and cinema” among many other things. The song’s refrain referred to the event’s title: “It’s Ted Walch Tonight.”
Television host and producer Jacob Soboroff ’01 and Alan Rice ’00 emceed the event.
“Ted Walch is not retiring,” Soboroff said in clarification when he and Rice first took the stage.
He brought out a chair the size of his hand and told audience members that it represented the endowment.
“We didn’t say it was a big endowment,” Rice said before he and Soboroff asked online viewers to use #walchsbigendowment to start a conversation about the event.
The two emcees went on to recount Walch’s history, starting from his origins in Sedalia, Missouri and going up through his time at Harvard-Westlake, which started in 1991 and has included teaching acting, directing, English, creative writing, cinema studies and Philosophy in Art and Science.
Throughout the evening, original cast members performed scenes from plays and musicals Walch directed while at Harvard-Westlake, many of them twice, including “Gypsy,” “West Side Story,” “Into the Woods” and “The Laramie Project.” Sometimes, alumni acted opposite alumni from different Harvard-Westlake productions of the same show.
Zach Lutsky ’93, who played Herbie, the male lead in “Gypsy”, the first musical Walch directed at Harvard-Westlake, said he was an athlete benched by a knee injury who had never acted, sung or danced before Walch cast him.
“I don’t know why he took a chance on an athlete,” Lutsky said. “I mean, we all know and love him now, but who was Ted Walch then?”
Lutsky said he appeared in nine musicals during college at the University of Pennsylvania, and although an emergency room doctor, now also works as a television writer. He thanked Walch for instilling a passion for theater in him and so many other students.
Gregory Crane ’95 performed a scene from “Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, Fran Kranz ’00 perfomed a monologue from William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and Natalie Margolin ’10 from Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”
Violinist, composer and conductor James McFadden-Talbot ’09 played a Bach solo on the violin.
Daniela Gesundheit ’00 sang “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” from “Jesus Christ Superstar”, accompanying herself on guitar. She said that when she auditioned with that song in the Drama Lab, that Walch said he wanted her to sing it at his funeral.
“I thought this was a better occasion,” she said.
Alumni and fellow teachers thanked Walch through video messages played for audience members. A slideshow of photos of Walch was also played.
“What really made this happen is not our affection for Ted; it’s Ted’s affection for us, his ability, his willingness to be astonished, regaled, edified by his students,” history teacher Eric Zwemer said. “Love him, of course, but always remember, everyone, he loved us first.”
Zwemer has known Walch since Walch taught him in seventh grade at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. As Zwemer left the stage, he kissed his hand and threw it toward Walch.
English teachers Howard and Isaac Laskin ’98, and art teacher Claire Cochran O’Connor ’06, who all were Walch’s students at Harvard-Westlake, also thanked Walch.
Walch will officiate at Howard’s wedding this summer, Howard told the audience.
Ben Platt ’11 sang “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin” in a video shot in the dressing room of the Broadway theater where he is starring in “Book of Mormon,” and there were other videotaped greetings from actress Maggie Gyllenhaal ’95 and actor Jason Segal ’97.
The last song of the evening was a version of “No Time at All,” sung by Beanie Feldstein ’11, with the baseball team doing choreography on stage and lyrics changed to praise Walch. A projection appeared with the modified lyrics so audience members could sing along, following a cutout of Walch’s head as it bounced along the text’s syllables in rhythm.
After Commons told the audience that the endowment was actually a big one–$1.5 million–former President Tom Hudnut, who was a teacher with Walch at St. Alban’s, and hired him both to teach at the Branson School in northern California and at Harvard-Westlake, said his goal always was excellence in school programs.
“I never hired anyone who was better at what she or he did than Ted Walch,” Hudnut said. “He is the best.”
Then Hudnut brought Walch up on stage.
“I’ll keep it simple,” Walch said. “When you work with wonderful people, whether they are colleagues or students, that’s all that matters. I’m incredibly touched, completely surprised and somewhat annoyed, but the thing that shines out tonight on the stage — and this is just the tip of the iceberg — is what kind of talent we’ve been blessed with.”
“I do feel a little bit like it’s a funeral,” he said.
A reception followed in Chalmers; there were “Ted cookies” shaped like Walch.