For more than 60 years, Silver has been a pillar in Cleveland’s theater scene. During a near-20-year run as resident guest director for Karamu House, she worked alongside her late husband, Reuben, to direct and perform plays six days a week. She supported influential playwrights such as Langston Hughes by advocating for his work and implemented casting methods that emphasized talent over ethnicity. At 87, the mother of three refuses to step off the stage, having recently starred in The Crucible during Cleveland Play House’s 100th season and in the upcoming July 2 performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale at ChamberFest Cleveland.
To the extent of their ability to do it, my parents encouraged everything we did.
It never would have occurred to them to say, “Don’t do it. You won’t make any money. Become an engineer.” They let us develop the way we wanted to, and you had to do it on your own.
I can’t imagine my life without children.
My children were fascinating to me in every phase of their life. I think it was a very important part of my life and maybe the most important part because it teaches you so much to watch somebody grow and develop.
They taught me a lot about acting. Kids are so direct about what they want. When you study acting and you study people, you see that why they’re doing something is why they do it. You have motivation clearly expressed constantly.
Karamu House was one of the first theaters to use what was then called “alternative casting,” which means the play was not about race. It was a very important concept.
In the period we were at Karamu, there was an explosion of black playwriting talent. Marvelous playwrights emerged who were writing about the black experience in America.
Langston Hughes became a wonderful friend. He often came to the house, and we were often doing his shows.
He was very realistic about his profession. Like every artist in theater, if a show becomes successful and goes to Broadway, you have to make a tremendous number of concessions.
My husband had Parkinson’s, and that’s a disease where you see the person losing their ability to live.
If I looked for a thousand years, I would never find anybody else like him, not after all the years we had together.
Every day when I wake up, I think, Great, I’ve got another day. So what are you going to do with it?
In theater, they have a million people in your type. There’s not a million people who look like me because by then you’re either dead or you dropped out because it was too damn hard.