We all have people we can point to who have changed our lives for the better. Parents, teachers, loved ones; the potential list is endless. Vaughn Koenig changed mine. I can even point to the exact moment that this wonderful teacher altered the course of my life. It was at the Saint Paul Open School and I was eleven. A couple of friends and I were skipping our classes together.
To this day I can’t tell you which class I was skipping. What I can tell you is which class my friend Tim Wick was skipping. It was called roving theater, and it was taught by Vaughn. The class was in essence an improvisational theater class that roved around the school building and grounds, taking advantage of the different spaces to help spur student creativity. On this particular day, the class had moved to the space that I and my friends had chosen to hide out in and play Dungeons and Dragons while skipping classes, though we didn’t know that until we came around a corner and ran smack into Vaughn and the class.
Tim rallied beautifully, spinning some story about being late and wondering if his friends could join the class for the day. I doubt that it fooled Vaughn, but she just quietly waved us into the next exercise, making sure to include the new kids. It was the first time that I’d ever had anything to do with acting or performance or really making my own art. I was utterly and irretrievably hooked. I never went back to whatever class I’d been skipping and I never skipped a day of roving theater.
In that class Vaughn taught me how to overcome what had up until then been a fairly shy nature. She instilled confidence in a boy who didn’t have a whole lot. And, most importantly, she taught me to value my own creativity as something I could share with others. For the next eleven years I was totally focused on the goal of making a life in theater.
I took whatever acting classes Vaughn offered from trimester to trimester, as well as anything else that she taught that fed my need for art and my sense of creativity, something in the neighborhood of twenty classes over all. I was only able to have her as my direct advisor for my last year at Open, but there is no question that she was my most important mentor during my eleven years at the school. My Open School graduation packet is heavy with theater-related material and I went on from Open School to get a BA in theater from the University of Minnesota. In addition to my Open School shows and classes, I performed or worked in quite a number of shows and festivals during those years.
At age 22 I took a sharp turn away from theater and into writing science fiction and fantasy and have stayed there ever since, making a career of it with sixteen novels written so far,* many of them published or forthcoming. But I’ve never forgotten or regretted a single moment of my theater years. Indeed, I have to credit them and Vaughn for fostering my skills at using language and story to evoke an effect in my intended audience, as well as shaping and training the creative and critical facilities I needed to become a successful novelist.
There is no question in my mind that I would not be where I am today, or what I am today without the loving guidance of an extraordinary teacher and woman named Vaughn Koenig.
Goodbye Vaughn, and thank you so very much. The world is a darker place for not having you in it.
*21 as of spring 2014