By Arti Panday
Tanit Mendes, co-chair of the theatre production program who taught at Ryerson for 15 years, and who was known for her infectious laughter and positive energy at the school, passed away on Oct. 31, 2012 at Toronto Grace Hospital.
She was 54.
Mendes began teaching at the Ryerson Theatre School in 1998, initially collaborating with the theatre school as an outside, professional designer. She joined the faculty when she replaced late RTS design professor Tony Abrams.
Mendes battled through bouts of cancer for more than five years, but students, staff and faculty members said they will remember her for her dedication.
“I think she cared for the students so much and gave 150 per cent of everything, including discipline – but she cared,” said Peter Fleming, productions and operations manager of the theatre school. “She cared about what she did, she cared about the effect of teaching, she cared about you as a student, as a faculty member, as a person. She was just very, very genuine.”
But it is the memory of Mendes’ trademark laugh that will stay with those who knew her. Fleming remembers working with Mendes both before and after she officially joined the Ryerson faculty.
“She and I always got along so well. Her laugh was so infectious, you could just hear it down the hall,” he said.
One of her former students, Heather Meger, has fond memories of Mendes.
“Her laugh is something that you’ve never heard before,” said Meger. “She was such a lovely person. Had I just met her through another avenue, we would’ve been friends.”
A graduate of York University’s theatre department with a masters of arts from the University of Toronto, Mendes was an artistic jackof all-trades.
Remaining dedicated to her students and igniting passion for theatre, art, and life as a whole is how she lived her life.
Aside from being a genuine, caring professor and friend, Mendes also had the role of a disciplinarian, a position she didn’t take lightly.
“She was fabulous, but she was tough,” said Fleming.
Her tough persona was seen especially by her students, who may have initially thought she was a bit too tough. Mendes served as the codirector of the program and academic advisor, dealing with all the students.
She put extensive effort into her position at the theatre school, helping students work through both academic and personal issues.
“In first year, I was like ‘she pushes us too hard’ and she wasn’t my favourite professor,” said Meger. “About halfway through first year I realized she was pushing us this hard because she wanted us to do well.”
Meger, who graduated from theatre technical production in 2004, says it was Mendes who helped her discover her talent for scenic painting.
“If you did something that was fantastic right off the bat, the smile that would come across her face and that overwhelming sense of being proud of you came through her because she was so dedicated to her students,” Meger says. “You wanted to do well for her. It wasn’t just to do it for yourself, you wanted to make her proud.”
“After I took the scenic painting course, she pushed me and made me realize that I had a talent in that. So, in my fourth year, I was head of paints for our production,” said Meger.
Breanne Lawrence, a third-year theatre production student, says Mendes made her “love being at the school.” She recalls Mendes as being passionate about her job. “She was one of those profs that was really into theatre,” she says.
“You could tell that she loved what she did and she loved teaching about it.” Mendes’ passion and humour is what Fleming thinks made her who she was.
“If you didn’t know Tanit Mendes then you missed somebody filled with passion and filled with humour, and life,” said Fleming. “She was a true artist. She taught set design, model making, scenic painting and jewelry making.”
Mendes’ artistic flair continued right into her final days. She wanted to run a jewelry-making class as she sat in her hospital bed; she asked her husband to get all of her materials.
Up until the end, Mendes was a teacher and an artist to the core.
“She always wanted to come back to teach,” said Fleming. “Her last words [to me] were, ‘I’m not going anywhere.'” Mendes will be honoured at a memorial set for Nov. 22, which will be run by the Theatre School.