By Bruce A. Smith
Nancy Tribush Hillman, the long-time director of Stage Struck Productions and the Drew Harvey Theater in Yelm, died of a stroke this week. Forever the trooper, she collapsed during a rehearsal in the Triad Theater last Monday, July 8. Rushed to St. Peter’s Hospital, she finally succumbed on Wednesday, July 11. Nancy Hillman was 78.
Nancy is survived by her daughters Avriel Hillman and Rachel Hillman.
Nancy Hillman was the grand architect of a rich and vibrant theatrical community centered in Yelm – first at the Drew Harvey Theater, and then later for her private production companies, Standing Room Only (SRO) and Stage Struck Productions. These used the renamed Triad Theater as their home base, and besides numerous community theatrical productions that seemed to run year-round, Nancy also ran acting and dance classes for young kids and teens. At its height in the late 1990’s, the Drew Harvey was filled on a near-daily basis with hundreds of children receiving instructions and performing routines – small groups clustered in the foyer, on various sections of the stage, in the aisles – anywhere where there was a bit of open space.
Nancy was a stickler for perfection, and many of her musical productions, such as Fiddler on the Roof, incorporated professional musicians, some of whom worked with her in New York during her professional acting days, and they commuted to Yelm for the dress rehearsals and performances.
From these intense and intimate connections, Nancy formed deep relationships with many of the emerging talents who came to her – drawn by her creative magnet. One of those young women was Lucy Turchin, who, with Nancy, co-wrote and co-produced the show “Givings” – the actual show they were rehearsing when Nancy collapsed.
I, too, am one of those eager-but-inexperienced actors that Nancy touched – tutoring and mentoring me to become greater than what I have been. Nancy cast me in her production of “Fiddler on the Roof” (1995), “My Fair Lady” (1997), “1776” (1996), gave me the lead in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1996), and finally, produced my one-man show, “Bruce Smith, Man or Myth – A Night of Storytelling and Songs,” in 1997.
I also considered her a friend. As my career in storytelling evolved, we would chat periodically, with Nancy always giving me timely advice or a reassuring hug. In fact, I watched the 2019 Academy Awards with Nancy, ironically in the company of Ms. Turchin – her “Givings” partner – as they were interrupting their script writing to view the Oscar broadcast. I brought the roasted chicken and potato salad as these two thespians hadn’t eaten all day, and in true Nancy-fashion there was nothing in the refrigerator.
“Givings” has become a form of public memorial service for Nancy. Its opening night was Friday, July 12, and the performance sold out, with the actors receiving a pronounced standing ovation. Shows continue this weekend and next. Friday and Saturdays at 7 pm, Sundays at 1 pm.
The Hillman family is currently making memorial plans, but details have not been released as of this date. However, updates, pictures and tributes can be found on the family’s individual Facebook pages.
In the meantime, the following missive from Rachel Hillman’s Facebook page was posted on the Yelm Community Blog, hosted by Steve Klein.
From Nancy’s daughter Rachel Hillman:
“To all the beloved friends of Nancy Tribush Hillman: this is her daughter, Rachel, posting from her account. Two days ago, while in rehearsal, my mother had a major hemorrhagic stroke. Due to the incredible fast response of loving friends, she was immediately rushed to the hospital and given the best possible care. The stroke, however, was too severe for it to be operable and the damage too great to be reversible. Her doctors considered every option, and took every precaution, but the CT scans and multiple opinions were conclusive. Although she had been unresponsive from moments after the incident, she was – I am grateful to say – not in any pain. She was surrounded round the clock by loving community, and loyal friends who stood vigil night and day. Both my sister and I were by her side. I was able to kiss her, hold her hand, tell her how much I love her, and thank her with all my heart for everything she has been and done.
“This afternoon, after all proper medical protocol and testing, my mother was officially pronounced dead. As shocking and unexpected as this was, and as grief-stricken as we all are right now, it fills my heart that she was so loved, supported, and pain-free through this experience, and that she was fully herself and doing what she loved up to the very last. It is a testament to her widespread impact that so many have come to visit and filled the waiting room these past few days. She was one of a kind. Truly.
“I will make future announcements about memorial and funeral services, when we know what they are. In the meantime, if you have any videos or pictures of my mother, in any setting and at any stage of life, could you please share them with me? I want to collect as much as possible. Same goes for memories and stories. Please share them – in the comments here or feel free to private message me. I may share some on this page, as well.
“Thank you all for being a part of my mother’s wild and wonderful life. She loved her friends, family, and community more than anything. For years, the walls of her home have been plastered with pictures of all of you, people she cared about, talked about, worried about, and celebrated every day. You helped give her life the deep meaning it has had.”
Nancy Tribush Hillman, photo courtesy of the Hillman family and Facebook, via the Yelm Community Blog, hosted by Steve Klein.
For more pictures of Nancy, and to partake in the extensive commentary on Nancy’s impact in the community, visit Rachel Hillman’s Facebook page: Rachel .
Note: Preliminary plans, as per my conversation with Avriel Hillman on Saturday evening, the community celebration of Nancy’s life will be held next Saturday or Sunday, July 20 or 21. More details will be posted here or in the comments below as they become available.
To see a sweet and short, but poignant video of Nancy, which may be one of the last videos taken of Nancy, Luby Missov has posted this on YouTube. He recorded it in Yelm during a recent event.
Bruce, thank you for letting me know about Nancy. She and I went to Shellbank Junior High School together in Brooklyn, NY and we met again in Yelm when we both moved there in 1989 to become part of Ramtha’s school. I am sad that she has left so early but her daughter’s tribute to her is warm and wonderful. There are plenty of plays waiting for her on the other side.
Jofannie, you are a magnet for people that I care about! You went to school with Nancy? WOWSER.
And I have crossed paths with you in North Carolina, and then again here in Yelm, again at RSE. And you feel such sisterhood via the stories posted here from my ex in NY, BJ. Whew.
My paths crossed with Nancy so many times, too – or didn’t cross. Besides RSE and the theater, I was supposed to see her in Brooklyn last New Year’s but had to cancel due to the family pressures of taking care of mom. So seeing her for the Oscars was a sweet substitute.