Tere Luke, a mainstay on the stages of Augusta community theater for nearly 50 years, made his last curtain call Saturday at Le Chat Noir.
Fellow actors, friends and family packed the theater to remember and celebrate Luke, who died Aug. 19 at 63.
Luke’s family wanted him to be onstage one last time, and those who attended the memorial agreed he would have liked it. That’s at least partly because he wrote the script and assigned the roles.
“Tere graced the stage of every venue in town, including even The Miller. His volume of work was incredible,” said Steve Walpert, former director of the Fort Gordon Dinner Theater. “He appeared in over 35 productions, just at Fort Gordon. That’s not counting The Players, the ballet, Le Chat, all the venues where he worked.”
Those shows included The Mouse Trap, Game Show, three separate productions of Noises Off, 1776, Stagestruck, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Night of the Iguana, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hot L Baltimore, Wait Until Dark and Witness for the Prosecution.
“He was a director, a stage manager, a terrific stylist and a very prolific actor,” Walpert said. “Tere could be tender, he could be oh so evil, and oh so funny.”
“Tere was passionate in his love of the stage and everybody involved in that with him — the cast, the crew, the people backstage and, of course, the audience. It’s very obvious. You can see by this turnout today that people participated with him in that love,” Walpert said.
“This is what Tere knew and what he felt was the focus of why he loved the stage so much: What he and the rest of the theater community have done and still do is to improve the quality of life for so many people. To bring them together and through the magic of theater to make them laugh, smile and to think, and bring a tear to their eye, and experience all the emotion that only a live performance can do. To bring joy to their lives — that’s what brought him joy, and we were all very privileged to be able to share that with him,” he said.
Others who worked with Luke over the years and spoke at the memorial included Andy Reese, Samille Basler, David Bartlett and Kelly Gordon and Gaffney Jarrell — daughters of the late June Stewart Perley, a longtime Augusta TV personality and theater community fixture — who gave command musical performances of two of Luke’s favorite songs: Desperado and Brand New Key.
Dot Scharff spoke directly to Luke’s urn about a show he encouraged her to see just days ago on a trip to New York.
“Tere, I did see the show and I sat on the third row, left aisle seat, and every time I think of Hello Dolly with Bette Midler, I’ll think of you and the other million experiences we had together. Thank you, darling,” she said.
Two of Luke’s five nieces talked about growing up adoring “Uncle Tere” and a childhood friend, Mike Spurrington, recalled how, when they were grown, Luke’s example helped Spurrington reconcile their friendship with his religion’s teachings on sexuality.
“He never ducked from who he was and what he stood for. As a Christian, I struggled with that because some Christians think it’s wrong to be gay,” Spurrington said. “And, it was like God said to me: ‘If one of your children came to you and they said that they were gay, you wouldn’t love them any less. Why would I love them any less?’ And that put that to rest with me. I made peace with my God about it.”
“And all I can think every morning since he passed away is that the world’s a little bit duller place without Tere in it,” he said.
Don Rhodes, longtime Augusta Chronicle columnist and former entertainment editor, wrote 100 local theater reviews, many including Luke.
“I could have written my review before I went because he was always so good,” Rhodes said. “After seeing him in Stagestruck at Fort Gordon, I wrote in my review: Why isn’t this guy on national TV and in movies?”
He told a story about how Luke helped then-Mayor Charles DeVaney play an April Fool’s joke on the local Board of Realtors by appearing as Middle Eastern sheik “Prince Faisal Farouk,” and regaling them with tales of how he planned to transform Augusta with his oil money.
“Tere was such a character,” Rhodes said. “He would have loved that his celebration of life is being held in a former porno movie theater, while in the next block is a March for Jesus rally.”
“He would love being here for his final performance in the theater district that he loved so much,” he said.
Rhodes also recalled a 1985 Augusta Chronicle story that quoted Luke about how to get rid of the blues: “If I’m in a real bad mood, I buy a bottle of really good champagne, light every candle in the house, put on my favorite album and get in the bathtub until I turn into a prune and the champagne is gone. Then I’m fine.”
“Everytime I was around Tere, watching him onstage or just talking to him, I was fine,” Rhodes said.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org