It was 1982. Freshly graduated from the theatre program at San Jose State University, I had just landed my first theatre job. Feeling both excited and terrified, I also felt entirely out of my league. That’s when I met Sylvia.
If you follow the money, you won’t find it in the theater. San Jose Rep’s small costume shop occupied a couple of classrooms in a vacant elementary school, in an unremarkable part of town. Yet between those walls, magic happened. Under Resident Costume Designer Marcia Frederick’s guidance, Sylvia Muzzio, Marcia and I crafted some of the most extraordinary costumes you’ve ever seen. We were three creative women working in very close quarters, yet we always got along.
Sylvia mentored and mothered and minded the shop and taught me about theater and life along the way. She personified warmth and care. I shared things with her that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with others. Her open nature and gentle soul invited you in. It was a gift at the time, though it took age and maturity to fully grasp how special she was.
Sylvia nurtured her children, her grandchildren and those of us lucky enough to be part of her circle. She always wanted the best for people. She was modest and unassuming, but honest and direct as well. I loved her.
While I was in an unhappy relationship in those early years at The Rep, Sylvia told me that I needed to find an Italian, someone warm and affectionate (like her). When years later I met and married Mike Francini, I enjoyed recalling that memory with her. “Sylvia,” I said, “I found my Italian.”
Sylvia had a year of major health problems, hospitalizations and treatments, then seemed to miraculously kick every last one of her ailments to the curb. I saw her earlier this year for lunch, and though frail, she was upbeat and engaged. I started one of those “let’s get together when you get back from Shasta” emails and hoped to see her again this fall.
Marcia called me on Monday to let me know that Sylvia was gravely ill. Sylvia and Marcia have remained close friends for many years. It came on suddenly in the last two weeks.
I spoke with Sylvia for the last time Wednesday morning. She was groggy from her pain medication, but she knew who I was and said it was good to hear my voice. She died this morning in her sleep.
And so I weep.
Death lies on her, like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.
Romeo and Juliet (1597) IV, scene 5, line 28.
Goodbye dear friend.