It's a good thing that Facebook and aol.com have plenty of room for messages. Otherwise, they might have crashed from the crush of people writing their shock and sadness over the sudden, unexpected death of Richey Suncoast Theatre managing director Charlie Skelton, whose death at age 66 during a summer vacation in Las Vegas on July 4 became known late last week.
The expressions of sorrow came from all corners of the globe, many from actors who got their start under Charlie's tutelage at RST and many more from people who got their footing in life with his help and guidance.
Everyone who knew and loved Charlie will get a chance to be with others who feel the same way and to share their memories during a celebration of life for him at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at theater, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey.
Meanwhile, the written messages keep coming as word spreads.
Justin Sargent, who's now playing the lead role in the blockbuster Broadway musical Rock of Ages, called him "a mentor and a dear friend."
"I wouldn't have had the passion and love for theatre had it not been for Charlie and Richey Suncoast," Sargent wrote from New York. "He always believed in me." Indeed, Charlie watched a young Justin Sargent get his start on the Richey Suncoast stage more than a decade ago and followed and encouraged him all the way to Broadway stardom.
Parents, Richey Suncoast alums and theater lovers alike said the theater won't be the same without him.
"He cared about all his kids (and parents) and made everybody feel VERY special as soon as they entered the doors of RST," wrote Madeleine Edstrom. "You made us all love being part of your theatre."
Be aware that there are two rules for those who come to the celebration, said Charlie's wife of 34 years and co-manager of the theater, Marie.
"No one should wear black," she said. Indeed, you might wear the brightest, happiest colors you can find, because Charlie was the brightest, happiest guy you might ever meet.
Rule two: No flowers or plants, please.
Instead, if you want to do what Charlie and Marie would like most, send a donation to their beloved Richey Suncoast Theater (address above, ZIP 34668), with a notation for it to go to the "Charlie Skelton Memorial Fund" the board of directors has set up.
All the donations will go into a special account to continue the renovations that the Skeltons have pushed for over the last 12 years, stripping the walls, ceilings, floors and outside down to the bare nub, then building them back in an art deco style they researched on their trips to Las Vegas.
Two big projects remain: re-doing the well-worn lobby floor and remodeling the backstage area.
"I would rather it be the lobby, because that's what Charlie wanted," his widow said. He had already come up with a design of a marble floor incorporating the theater masks of comedy and tragedy and Richey Suncoast logo to match the design on the curtain above the stage.
Something so elegant would go perfectly with the gold dome on the roof, the art deco lighting and wall coverings in the auditorium and the neat signage on the building front, box office and concession booth that Charlie also designed.
I'm hoping the board also installs a great big plaque somewhere prominent to let everyone now and in the future know how much the Skeltons have meant and continue to mean to the theater and the entire community.