In the late spring of ’78, Rod Blaydes was getting ready to close down for the summer.
He ran his own theater out of the old Trinity Methodist Church in downtown Dallas, but there was no heating and no air conditioning. The summer and winter were terrible. The fall and spring were great.
In the heart of the city, this Dallas Landmark stood out with its prairie style architecture and distinctive stained glass windows. And since the congregation had dwindled and eventually vanished in recent years, Blaydes was able to rent the place for just $1 a year.
But near the end of May, his friend Sharon L'Helgoual'ch called to ask for a favor. She was a teacher at St. Mark’s, and she needed someone to teach their summer program, Summer Stage, where students put on five shows in six weeks.
It sounded crazy to Blaydes, but when he heard he would be paid $2,000, he had to listen.
Just 24 years old at the time, he needed the money, so he took the job. But he never thought of himself as a teacher. He was an actor first.
So when the Head of the Drama Department Dick Holly offered him a job, Blaydes initially backed away.
Holly noticed, however, the way he worked with the kids and told Blaydes to reconsider.
You may not think you’re a teacher, but you are.
After thinking it over and considering the monetary benefits, Blaydes decided to take the job, work for a few years, save up enough money and then head to New York for Broadway.
“That was 37 years ago,” Blaydes said. “I just found my calling.”
Shortly after his start at the school, Blaydes took on a similar position at Hockaday as head of the Drama Department at both schools, doing what many thought would be impossible.
“I got a call from the Head of Upper School at Hockaday and he asked if I could possibly do both schools,” Blaydes said. “I’ve never done anything like it before. I loved doing it. People thought I was nuts when they figured out what I was doing.”
Over time, Blaydes adapted to his dual roles, but he still considers St. Mark’s his home.
“I still think of myself as a St. Mark’s teacher,” Blaydes said. “I don't want to shrug off Hockaday, it’s a great school. But this is where I started. The camaraderie, the school itself and the whole ambience that's here hasn't changed all that much.”
Yet at the end of this year, Blaydes will be hanging up his hat, leaving behind countless memories and a legacy that spans more than 125 plays and musicals.
“It’s just a great place to work,” Blaydes said. “That why not many people leave here. Unless, you know, it's time. And it's time for me.”
Fine Arts Department Chair Jacque Gavin will especially feel the impact of his retirement.
“He and I started together,” Gavin said. “We’ve had a parallel course. We started the same year, and we’re the only two people left from our year, so it's going to be strange next year.”
Recently, Blaydes has suffered health complications, including two strokes, one of which occurred during a car accident.
“Health wise, the last experience I had, the accident, brought a lot of stuff to light,” Blaydes said. “I can't drive anymore. I love spending time here, but I also love my family. Now I want to spend more time with my family, with my wife.”
Blaydes’s stroke came as a big shock for his students as well, including senior Roland Bauman, who is in his Drama class.
“On a very superficial level it ruined my mood for a couple days,” Bauman said. “He's a presence there everyday, and he's got big personality. We all love him to bits. So we were very worried about him. I think it's the only time we didn't cheer for missing a class.”
While the accident has forced Blaydes to reassess his life, he still wants to pursue the things he loves.
“When you have a car accident, it changes your outlook about everything,” Blaydes said. “About how short life is. I'm 68 years old and there's still some other things I want to do. Hopefully I'll do then all. Bucket list time and all that garbage. It's just time for me to do this.”
The last segment of Blaydes’s legacy, a production of Shakespeare’s Tempest, opens tonight at 7:30 in the Amphitheater. Tempest was also Shakespeare’s last play that he produced.
“The cast is really doing a great job,” Blaydes said. “Everybody is really into it and I really thank them for that. It’s going to be a hectic next two and a half weeks, really, but it’s going to come through. I have all of the confidence in the world in you guys.”
Blaydes believes that as long as the actors put their best efforts forward, any production will be a success.
“There are good things about every production because people discover themselves in these,” Blaydes said. “I’ve always tried to treat the students as artists, to have a respect for the art a student has and the talent a student has.”
The students enjoy Blaydes’s style of directing as well.
“It's a good balance between being on top of things and being relaxed about things,” Bauman said. “He forces us to find our own solution to problems and he deals with the bigger things.”
Blaydes also credits his students for his success.
“I’ve been blessed here with very smart students and very smart kids that get it,” Blaydes said. “And it takes, believe it or not, some bit of intelligence to do this. You’ve got to be smart. The smarter you are the better you can understand what’s happening.”
As much as it pains him to move on, Blaydes feels that this is a move he must make.
“My stay here, my years here, have changed my life, and made it better,” Blaydes said. “I really hate to leave. I do. But I have to. I’ll be back. I can’t totally leave this place but this is something I’ve got to do.”
While his life has been shaped by his time at St. Mark’s, he does not want his life to end at St. Mark’s.
“I've always said I’m going to die here,” Blaydes said. “But it finally dawned on me that I don't want to die here.”