When the TALOS juniors return to The Woolshed Theatre on July 23, it will be to an empty chair in the front row that their gaze will be drawn.
For it is that space, right next to the piano, that Ed Clarke used to fill. It is from there he would offer up his particular brand of advice at rehearsals and mentor the TALOS juniors every Thursday afternoon, bottle of milk in hand ready for the adult’s tea break.
Ed died during lockdown, on May 8 at the age of 90. His funeral notice said he “left to go travelling ‘somewhere over the rainbow’, suggesting he had made his exit ‘slowly, stage centre, chuckling quietly’. His signature tune, it is said, was Frank Sinatra’s I Did it My Way.
In an obituary penned by Coral Taylor for the Te Awamutu Light Operatic Society (TALOS) newsletter ‘The Voice’, it was made clear that Ed would remain in the hearts and minds of The Woolshed family for years to come.
She recalled opening nights attended by Ed and his wife Elizabeth, with Ed opening the interval with a theatrical call to the audience, “Trumpets for sale, get your trumpet while it’s hot”. Buoyed by the response, he always added a little something extra to the sales pitch.
Ed had been involved with The Woolshed since the late 1990s, sometimes on stage, sometimes directing or doing backstage jobs, props, wardrobe and the like. It turned out that not all his dialogue was scripted. “He enjoyed embellishing his role from time to time,” said Coral. “Sometimes Ed’s charm and utter enjoyment of the whole theatre experience enabled him to get away with his version.”
In 2013, Coral directed Fiddler on The Roof for a second time. Ed was keen to audition for the role of the Rabbi, and got the part, paired with Howard Robinson as the Rabbi’s son, Mendal. A successful run of full houses took them to the seventh night, a packed Saturday. When the interval came and the crew surged backstage for a cuppa, they quickly noticed that Ed and his mobility scooter were missing. A frantic search found him speeding down the road on his scooter. “As he got within range, he called out to the boys and loaded them up with a large newspaper pack of hot chips,” said Coral. “That was Ed, shouting us all hot chips and saying simply, “I did pre-order them”.
Ed was a British import, a former cop from London’s East End. The family settled in New Zealand after a brief foray to Canada and have been in Te Awamutu for several decades.