Greetings Dear Community,
Earlier this week you may have read that one of our beloved company members, Yolande Bruce, passed away. We are deeply saddened by her passing, even as we find some relief in knowing that she was surrounded by beloved family members, friends, and her devoted son Miles in her last moments.
Yolande’s long career is brightly lit with so many accomplishments, but I always knew her best through her devotion and service to Penumbra. Until this year, Yolande had been performing in Penumbra’s Black Nativity for over two decades. Her crystalline voice could hush the room and focus our attention on the quietest moments or get our fingers snapping and feet tapping along with her irrepressible joy. Many of us marveled at her ability to improvise while performing; it was magical to watch her start scatting during a song. We all went on a journey of discovery together.
In order to improvise like that, Yolande was incredibly disciplined in her artistry. Her work ethic, her precision, her commitment to the creative process was remarkable. She found the light in others; always had an encouraging word and dared those around her to stretch and take up space. In many ways it was seeing her work ethic that compelled other artists to trust themselves as she urged them along. Those who regularly attend Black Nativity will remember her brilliant solos as well as the moments when Yolande would turn upstage to direct the choir as they raised their voices in joyful celebration. What you may not know is that Yolande was standing in the very same spot her mother, Roberta Davis, had once stood to direct the choir before her—a poignant nod to the power of legacy and ancestry.
It is also a powerful testimony to the importance of community gathering spaces like Penumbra; we wouldn’t exist without amazing people deciding to make part of their lives here. Yolande believed in community, in gathering, in celebrating, and in the history and legacy of our theatre. Yolande chose to make part of her life here and for that we are forever grateful.
As I mourn her passing, my heart breaks also for so many of our other company members who loved Yolande deeply and for so long. I know that they are hurting right now and I so wish that we could come together as an artistic family to celebrate her life and console one another. Each day since her passing I have been trying to radiate love outward because I feel that is what Yolande did in her art and her life. It’s my small way of honoring her in isolation from community right now.
Please join me in sending love and peace to her loved ones whose grief is compounded by the loss of togetherness, the many losses experienced during this difficult year, and the loss of a light that shone so brightly in our midst.
We love you, Yolande.
May you rest in peace and power.
With abiding love,