|Kandi, Carter and Madison|
As actors, we often draw on our own real life experiences to shape our characters. But there’s one role that none of us can really rehearse or prepare for: Death. A dear friend of mine has just passed away, and writing about her final scene is my way of coping with my grief. Kandi Krumins was just 52 when she died after a two-year battle with colon cancer. I knew her through the theater, but she was first and foremost a teacher and a mother.
I first met Kandi eight years ago when I was assistant directing To Kill A Mockingbird. Kandi brought her children Madison and Carter, then 11 and 8, to audition for roles that were a bit too old for them. While her kids were not cast, Kandi got a role as Miss Stephanie, and when another actress quit, Kandi stepped into the lead role of Jean Louise. She quickly memorized all the lines and gave a stellar performance. Again, a few years later, she stepped in to fill a role in The Vast Difference when an actress had to be replaced two weeks before opening night. Kandi was always up for a challenge, and once she committed to something, she was all in.
When I directed my first play (Leading Ladies), I asked Kandi to choreograph a short dance break. It was a throwaway scene with no description in the script, but Kandi embraced the task with her usual gusto. She taught three couples to tango in comedic fashion, and the scene stole the show. When I directed Monty Python’s Spamalot, Kandi was one of my assistant directors, and she choreographed a crazy French chase scene. And when a key dancer badly sprained his ankle right before opening, Kandi pressed Carter (then 14) into action and taught him all the dance numbers in just three days. Always the teacher, Kandi had a real talent for taking complex concepts and breaking them down into bite-size steps that anyone could learn.
Kandi’s biggest theatrical achievement was writing and directing a full-length, family friendly musical, Mid-Winter Break. It was a coming of age story about middle school students, and while Carter and Madison were both in the cast, they received no special treatment from mom. The show was well-conceived, not clichéd, and very touching. It was produced in Waterford, Michigan in 2015, and again in 2017 at the Farmington Players Barn, Kandi’s home theater. At the Barn, Kandi also choreographed Annie, and had stage roles in The Calendar Girls and The Dixie Swim Club, playing Jerry Neal, a lovable pregnant ditzy Southern gal, which was my favorite role of hers.
When Kandi was first diagnosed with colon cancer, she had surgery followed up by chemo. Once her cancer was in remission, Kandi was back to her usual assertive, productive self. After leaving her public school job, she home schooled Madison and Carter through middle school. She stayed busy at the Barn and by promoting Mid-Winter Break. And when her cancer returned, she kept it a secret for a long time. Whether she was in denial, or truly believed that she could beat it, Kandi always put up a good front. She was a good actor, and we all wanted to believe her. But eventually the cancer took its toll, and only towards the very end, did she agree to receive visitors.
I last saw Kandi three days before she died. She had been non-verbal all day, but when Madison announced my arrival, she perked up and started speaking. In our final conversation, I was doing most of the talking, but it was nice to reminisce about all the shows we’d been involved in together. She drifted in and out of focus, speaking of unfinished, imagined tasks: “The scripts … I have to get the scripts.” I told her that Spamalot was my favorite shared theater experience with her. Then we were both silent for a very long time. I wasn’t sure if she was still awake, but all of a sudden, she said, “Killer Rabbit,” and I laughed. When it was time to take my leave, I told her I loved her and kissed her forehead. She took my hand and kissed it. I was grateful for the chance to say good-bye. Madison told me later that my conversation with Kandi was the last one she ever had, as she became non-verbal again right after I left.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare wrote: “Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.” I am honored to have witnessed one actor’s final scene, and of Kandi’s life, I can only say, “Well played.”
If you’d like to help Kandi’s children, Madison and Carter, please donate to this Go Fund Me campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/krumins-family-support