By Tina Scruggs – Multimedia Editor – [email protected]
Soft piano music filled the softly illuminated stage in the Carol Belk Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 20. The memorial served to celebrate student Claire Milner’s life.
Milner, a junior drama student, would have played the magistrate in this spring’s modern production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, said Laura Bond, chair of the drama department. Milner passed away in a car accident on Feb. 17 in Tennessee, according to her obituary.
“It is an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to come and express any of their wishes or memories or fondness for Claire. People can make a memorial ribbon — Claire was really into Harley Quinn — so that’s why the ribbons are red and black,” Bond said.
In the theater, two Victorian-era gowns and a suit sat illuminated onstage, while students looked at photos depicting the many faces Milner wore. Many students were sprawled on the floor, writing memories and notes to Milner.
“Rob Berls, a drama professor, made a wooden box and carved her name on the top of it, and we’re asking people to put in pictures or notes and that’s going to be mailed, with its contents, to her family,” Bond said.
Scott Walters, a professor of drama, directed Milner in The Importance of Being Earnest. He described her as a very articulate young woman who was not shy to speak up in class. He said she was intense with her career and desire to do theater.
“I’d always avoided doing that play because the role she played — her name was Lady Bracknell — was an older character, but extraordinarily powerful. At the college level, it’s sometimes difficult to find an actress who can play the age and power. People can play little old ladies, but the power is hard. I decided to take a chance and do that play, and Claire just came in and grabbed that role and made her funny, powerful and focused. She just did an awesome job,” Walters said.
Andi Epenshade, a drama student, said he remembered working with Milner on The Importance of Being Earnest.
“Period acting was her favorite thing, so she was very excited. She wasn’t super excited about her role because she was playing an older lady, but she was very, very, very good at it,” Epenshade said.
He said Milner always had the department’s thoughts as her top priority.
“She was a little hard on herself whenever she was rehearsing scenes. It was entirely about the performance. It was just ridiculous dedication,” the senior said.
Epenshade said he knew she was very into cosplay, she designed and made many of her own costumes. He even saw her on the cover of a local Asheville paper dressed up with other cosplayers.
“She would find pieces and she would alter them or she would create them herself. She was very dedicated,” he said.
Bond, who taught Milner in an acting class, described her as a very smart, vibrant young lady who was passionate about acting and costumes.
“She loved playing characters who were really big and broad and she would go with great gusto into a character and put everything, from head to toe into it. The thing I’ll miss the most is her excitement for the classics and she loved really getting into discussions in classes,” Bond said.
“People I didn’t know had met her and knew her. Claire was like everybody’s cousin, so it hit us all so quickly,” said Korinne Dunn, a senior drama student.
Hannah Criswell, junior art history student, said she only had a few interactions with Milner, but they were all very sweet. At a concert at the Orange Peel when Criswell got food poisoning, Milner left the concert to take the sick-feeling Criswell home.
“She was willing to give up seeing They Might Be Giants so I could be healthy. That made a big impression on me. That’s how I’ll remember her — being very kind,” Criswell said.
According to Walters, Milner hoped to play the character Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but she was cast in a smaller role. Before she passed away, the costume for her character, the master of the revels, was finished.
“It had big round glasses, a several thousand dollar suit that the costume designer had in his own collection, and she just looked like she was so happy. Like this was way better than she thought the character was going to be and I was really looking forward to seeing her develop that character,” Walters said.
Milner wanted to play more leading ladies and ingenues, but Walters said she had incredible talent as a character actress and comedian.
“I spent a good deal of time over the year and a half that I knew her trying to convince her how rare the type of talent that she had was and that she really needed to appreciate and celebrate that,” Walters said.