Lorna C. Hill BUFFALO, NY - Founder and Artistic Director of Ujima Company, Inc. for 41 years. Born June 25, 1951 at Mount Vernon, NY. Departed this life peacefully June 30, 2020. Dearest daughter of Ruby Byars, sister of Donna Mills, beloved mother of Amilcar Hill, and Zoe Scruggs, grandmother to Asa Hill and Solace Hill, and Aunt of Rikkia Mills. Dearest beloved friend of Rahwa Ghirmatzion, Bob Ball, and all of the Ujima Company Members 1978-present. A celebration of life is being planned and will be announced at a later date. To offer your sympathies during this difficult time you can send cards and gifts to Ujima Company, Inc. 429 Plymouth Avenue, Suite 2, Buffalo, NY 14213. For online messages of sympathies please share your condolences to the facebook page www.facebook.com/LornaCHillLove/.
In lieu of flowers donations will be graciously accepted at bit.ly/lornachill.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
LORNA C. HILL
Tributes to Lorna
Former student at Buffalo Seminary
I am deeply, deeply unqualified to speak about Lorna Hill.
So much was great about her.
So much was so great about Ujima.
And when I say great, I don’t mean “the superlative version of good”, I mean like “The Great Depression”, or “The Great Wall of China”.
Lorna’s life was big.
Her life had a huge impact on mine, and the lives of my friends, and yet changing our lives might be the least important thing she ever did. The energetic web of Buffalo must be buzzing with dozens, hundreds, thousands of stories of people transformed by Lorna. But I will tell my little story because she taught me to. Stories, well told, are how we know and share truth.
I attended The Buffalo Seminary in the mid-80s, and Lorna was my drama teacher.
When I look back now – when I review the sentence I just typed - I think: WOW.
I mean…what a thing. Magnificent Lorna, teaching drama to a batch of mostly white, mostly privileged teenaged girls. The next thing I think is “I hope they paid her a whole bunch of money”.
She was great with us, of course – gorgeous and brilliant and inspiring. We were in awe of her. We would have followed her anywhere. And when she chose Wendy Wasserstein’s “Uncommon Women And Others” as the play we’d learn and perform, we were all in.
Again, looking back…holy Mary Mother of Dragons, what a deeply subversive thing to do. I’ve since been a college theatre major and worked in theatre, and I’ve read every word of Wasserstein’s plays (plus her essays, Julie Salomon’s biography, etc). I understand “Uncommon Women” in and out now, as I did not at age 16. From this vantage point I am knocked out by how simultaneously elegant and vicious, pointed and perfect, generous and challenging, it was to ask a bunch of high school girls in an elite girls’ school, riding out the ebb of second-wave feminism, to play a bunch of college women at an elite women’s college, coming of age during the first surge of second-wave feminism.
I was Holly, of course – Wasserstein’s stand-in. Smart, funny, sad, chubby, insecure, Jewish. My friends were also beautifully cast. We discovered the play, and we loved every second of it. It was thrilling, empowering, difficult…the whole ball of wax.
And then, near the end of our second act, came the crisis. The administration of The Buffalo Seminary learned that we were going to fill a diaphragm with cream and discuss tasting our menstrual blood, on stage in the same chapel where we sang “Sheltering Arms” in the morning.
In short: they did not let us.
Lorna went to bat for us, but eventually a “compromise” was reached: we would be allowed to perform a heavily edited version of the play, minus any parts sure to cause pearl clutching among the annual fund heavyweights.
We were incensed! We were outraged!
We were being censored! We were oppressed!
We were teenagers!
We were powerless…but we had Lorna.
Lorna snapped us into focus. She helped us put on our big girl panties and do the best work we could do on the stage of The Buffalo Seminary. She taught us that the show must go on, and you overcome obstacles, and that no matter what happens you go out there and you kill it.
And then…she gave us a weekend at Ujima.
Needless to say, this was far outside the realm of our experience. But Lorna helped us – 9 high school girls – to form our own theatre company. She gave us the stage. She gave us resources.
And she let us put on the play, unedited - menstrual blood, diaphragms, and all.
And she unquestionably changed all of our lives, permanently.
After that, we were all completely on fire. All we wanted to do was more theatre. My mother wrote some plays for us. When she was dying, I finished her last play with her, and a new generation of Sem girls performed it on stage. It contained some shocking ideas and language.
At least three of those girls who performed on the stages of The Buffalo Seminary and Ujima Theatre became college theatre majors. We became women and continued to do theatre in Seattle. One went on to teach drama. I wrote plays, and won a few awards for them. I met friends, kept writing.
The ripple effect of Lorna’s commitment to art, and commitment to us, has probably touched every second of my life since. And I am just one piddly little girl who got to cross her path while she was on a gig to keep the lights on at her theatre - her life’s work, her passion project.
I literally cannot imagine how many stories there are out there of her lifting up voices that needed to be heard, changing lives. I can’t imagine how many times she cast a spotlight on injustice and challenged us all to face it and fix it.
Let me be clear: my story is not a story about injustice.
White girls at The Buffalo Seminary in 1986 were not an oppressed class.
And yet…we were…girls. We were a certain kind of girl, at a certain kind of institution, and we were certainly not encouraged to be…vulgar. We were certainly not free.
Lorna saw that, and when the Powers That Be politely suggested that we hush up and tone it down a notch, Lorna was the one to teach us that we actually didn’t have to. She gave us a place to speak.
She saw US, and she helped us to be freer, louder…better. She helped us to be artists.
It’s striking to me that she and Carl Reiner both left us today.
In many ways, of course they had nothing in common. But they were both visionary, both revolutionary. They both made me feel uncomfortable and excited and present. They both sent electricity through your heart and soul and body and brain, lighting it up, pushing you to find the joy and truth and pain in yourself so you could fling it out there, and link it up with others doing the same.
They both worked unbelievably hard. They both pushed themselves to excellence, and knew how to lift others up to meet them. They both made you want to be freer, louder, better.
They both had radiant smiles and fiery hearts and filled the world with joy and truth, and made that world a better place, one little life at a time.
Maybe they’ll meet up at the Newcomer’s Cocktail Hour in heaven.
That’s a short play for you…maybe I’ll write it.
Rest in power, Lorna. This one little pisher will never stop saying thank you.
Tributes to Lorna
I met her when I was a teenaged musician and Ujima was producing music artists. They introduced Buffalo and the world to Liberty Silver and I had the pleasure of playing some of the first shows. Lorna and Michale opened their home and their hearts to the artists of all genres. We last worked for her in a play about Billie Holiday about 12 years ago in the theatre loft. She was just as passionate as she was some 40 years ago. We will truly miss her!🙏🙏🙏❤️❤️❤️.