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Had she not met a tragic and untimely death at a shockingly young age while still enrolled at Fullerton College, Bronwyn Dodson would have continued on into a notable career in the performing arts. As it stands, she packed a lifetime’s worth of activity in every conceivable theater arts discipline into just a small handful of years, and touched so many of those around her that just three months after her death in the fall of 1991, the campus’ Studio Theatre was renamed in her honor and a scholarship fund was established in her name.
Bronwyn Dodson was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. In the early 1980s, her family moved to Orange County, California, where Dodson graduated from Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills in 1985. Enrolling at Fullerton College in 1986, Dodson worked tirelessly in the Theatre Department, serving as an actress, makeup artist, electrician, carpenter, scene painter, assistant stage manager, stage manager, director, production manager and coordinator of the high school theater festival. In effect, this one young theater major touched every side of production and thus gained insight into all the personalities and disciplines incorporated into every new theater production.
The high-profile Dodson also served on the Theatre Department Student Advisory Council for three years and the Campus Theatre Stage Crew for two, played pivotal roles in the annual Theatre Arts Banquet, coordinated the Amnesty International Benefit Reception for the department’s production of “Largo Desolato,” and traveled with the production company of “Tracers” to Scotland to participate in the Edinburgh Festival. From the very start, Dodson’s numerous accomplishments and high potential were officially recognized by the Theatre Department staff and students. She received the Most Promising Newcomer Award, two production teamwork awards, two Acting workshop leadership awards, and the highly coveted Paul Scop Memorial Award, given to the one student who most personifies the humanitarian spirit of late actor Paul Scop who worked with the department in the early 1980s.
Despite her considerable and uncommonly broadly-based accomplishments as a theater arts major, Dodson is best remembered for her personal traits and the personal nature of relationships cultivated and maintained with literally hundreds of people. Fine Arts Dean Robert Jensen, who taught and worked with Dodson and knew her well, said she was best known “for her infectious smile and exuberant embracing of life’s challenges. Even in the midst of all her work, she took time for all of these people, and that was very inspiring to all of us. She was independent and uninhibited, demanding, dramatic, gentle, and gracious. She had a wonderful listening spirit, and became the confidante and special friend to many people.”
One morning in September, 1991, while on her way to Fullerton College, Dodson was killed in a traffic accident, sending shock waves throughout not just the Theatre Arts Department, but the entire school. At the time of her death, Dodson was completing her General Education requirements at Fullerton College and had planned to transfer to the stage management program of North Carolina School of the Arts. Held on the campus quad in October, 1991, and attended by 500, her memorial service honored Dodson with original songs, poems, memorials, dedications, and tree plantings.
Bob Jensen recalls that “as the whole program shuddered through that experience, we tried to find some way to translate her tragedy into something inspiring and positive” and “to symbolically represent the student-centeredness of the theater program at Fullerton College.” What resulted was that three months after Dodson’s death, the Studio Theatre was rechristened the Bronwyn Dodson Theatre and a formal facility naming policy was established for use by the college and the school district. Also, with the assistance of Dodson’s family, a scholarship fund was created in her name, one that honors the most promising theater student and/or the most well-rounded theatre student leaving the college to begin the next stage of his/her training and professional life.
Despite her tragic death, Bronwyn Dodson is remembered with feelings of warmth by all who knew her. “She touched everything, and I loved the spirit in which she did that,” says Jensen with a smile. “She had red cowboy boots, rolled up her sleeves, and made things happen.”
Well, here we are, Kid. 20 years on, and you still give me a knot in my throat when you enter the room.
I sat down to compose some words, which are meant to be read in celebration of your life. For some reason, I’m finding it very difficult. What should I say to them? There is not a single facet of your character, your persona, your spirit, that isn’t already contained in the fact of your legacy here. To have known you, is simply to remember. For those who came later......well, I can imagine how young theater students are reminded of you, probably without even knowing it, under the sudden exciting shock of finding their light for the first time; the glorious rush of nailing the perfect technical cue; the thrilling terror of having to improvise onstage, when a doorknob comes off in your hand, or the sound cue for a ringing telephone somehow ends up being a barking dog. You are always present at those times, Bronwyn, and this is how I know: because you were born for those moments. It was so easy to write your name over the most beloved and intimate performance space in the entire Fine Arts complex, because you were a natural and perfect embodiment of everything that really matters there.
There is a great quote from Leonardo da Vinci. He said: “While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” I believe what he meant was that in his epiphany, he saw everything that life is, rather than what life is supposed to be, and that there is a tremendous peace in that. I have those epiphanies myself, now and again. I believe we all do. It is in those moments that I know you are there. At the high points of my life.In my times of triumph. In my epiphanies.
At the very, very beginning of this current century, I was laying on a beach, located on a remote jungle-enclosed coast of northern Colombia. The harsh hurricane season of late 1999 had left the Caribbean region ravaged and exhausted. The night before, at the stroke of midnight, the world was relieved that Y2K had not brought mass pandemonium and crashing computers and crashing planes and crashing economies. Sitting there on the debris-littered beach, on the first day of the new millennium, year 2000, looking out at the sea as it kept rolling forward and back, eternal, I wrote a poem for you then, if you remember. I know you already know it, because you were there.
So perhaps that’s what I will share with them. A memory of you. It is this:
It is arriving again.
Everything we gave away to thrift
for new tricks. Everything we lost.
Sad and despairing mournful separations.
All the things we gave good farewell, or didn't, and regretted –
they are arriving again, as we are, back in the instant
we had forgotten.
I saw you clearly today,
this morning, on a quiet and blurry beach
burdened with hurricane litter, and fresh from the millennial flames
of last night, the Last Night of a Thousand Years –
we stood around fires strewn like jewels.
A ruby necklace. Endless sandscapes.
Crashing surf and drumming and rumming and me
sprawling on the vast beach, drunken.
I saw you as clearly as I saw you in
the memory of my secret drawer.
I knew it was you because
you were young, still,
fresh as wet stone, burnished driftwood.
You were not indifferent to the passing of a thousand years.
You held them in your hand, you offered them
streaming from your eyes and tasted them
with a kind of savor that made me
know the flavor.
Once I would have said that I heard you
whispering to me on the wind,
but now I am old enough and at peace enough
(with my ghosts)
to know that it was only the sound of the sea and morning voices
saluting the day and the wind,
of all things.
And my body reminding me, too,
that they are returning.
The sand in my toes and splatter of sea milk
on my chest and back, my skin
reddened and touched by the hot
breath of the sun, my bones
of the conscious kiss
of the proximity of paradise,
and everything that I had forsaken of my flesh
returning, then turning, again,
in one decisive crack of a
In the time that we are seeing
the return of all blessings, bounteous favors
and our inequities with them,
we are holding them too, in our hands,
and streaming from our eyes
and tongue and tasting them.
We contain them. I receive a thousand years.
I receive you, and I vanish.
– Steve Spehar
“As the whole program shuddered through that experience, we tried to find some way to translate her tragedy into something inspiring and positive.”
1986 to 1991
Most Promising Newcomer Award
Theatre Arts Department production teamwork awards (twice)
Acting Workshop Leadership Award (twice)
Paul Scop Memorial Award