RIVERVIEW — All day Thursday, they shuffled in and they shuffled out, they gathered together backstage and they told stories for hours around an empty chair.
More than 100 current and former students of Daron Hawkins talked about their teacher, whose death after a long illness was announced Wednesday via a family friend on Facebook.
But they laughed, too, about Riverview High School's diligent, demanding and detailed drama teacher, who expected the best from them, and usually got it.
"He loved you," says Priscilla Aguirre, a former student now in her first year studying vocal performance and musical theater at the University of South Florida. "But he made you work for it."
Aguirre didn't meet Mr. Hawkins until her senior year, but connected with his high expectations.
"Having him as a teacher really made me realize, that's okay to want to strive for perfection."
It was a point Mr. Hawkins made again and again to his students and cast, Aguirre says, and it showed on stage. People couldn't believe they'd just seen a high school production, but the cast put in long hours rehearsing and worked hard to get there.
"He had taught us that's what professionals do."
Liz Stewart first started working with Mr. Hawkins in 2000, when she was a private voice teacher. Working together on shows, he had every detail down, she says, from hair to costumes to sets to the perfectly organized costume closet.
Mr. Hawkins' passion and precision for theater showed up early, says Robert Heilmann, Riverview's principal. Heilmann had known Hawkins since he worked as an assistant principal at East Bay High and Hawkins was a student.
"I would watch Daron as a junior begin to take control of presentations," Heilmann says.
That includes once telling the choral director that practice time was over, and "get off my stage," Heilmann recalls.
Students and staff will remember him for his productions, but also for his sticky notes. He used them everywhere, Aguirre says.
Students often brought Mr. Hawkins sticky notes with notes of their own.
Mr. Hawkins found another way to share his passion with the community through the Riverview Little Theatre. He also served as director of the Florida State Thespians.
Mr. Hawkins was 38 and had been at the school since it opened in 1998. On Friday morning, plans were solidified for a celebration in honor of Hawkins on Nov. 23. The evening will include songs and snippets from Hawkins' productions. But it won't be a memorial.
At a spontaneous memorial backstage Thursday, there was talking and tears. And music.
Together, cast mates from last year's production of Once on This Island sang a verse and the chorus of the song Mr. Hawkins taught them, and worked on, and perfected, until they got it just right.