A Tribute to Gil Thompson
By Michael Woods

A Tribute to Gil Thompson

Gil Thompson has served the Sidwell Friends community for 36 years before choosing to retire.  A theater professional in his own right before and during his time at Sidwell, he has left in his wake a list of students who are now gifted theater professionals in their own right. Furthermore, he leaves a broader list of students who appreciate and respect the details of how good theater gets done.  And for the remainder of us who witnessed these excellent productions, he leaves a permanent memory of the joy of live theater; and a perpetual marvel that most of the work was student driven and student produced.

Gil produced independent and skilled theater technicians and program managers.  He orchestrated a development pipeline of younger students who thrived in the behind-the-scenes work required for great plays and musicals. His bar was high and his standard was demanding.  Many grew so confident and competent that they were reliable for independent work when the school needed someone to run lights and sound for a collection, for a recital and or even for an impromptu gathering. He taught, led, and mentored them in sound engineering, light design, set creation and the means to synchronize this background to enhance the audience-facing actors and musicians. 

Gil was a Helen Hayes Award recipient and his deep appreciation and skill for theater translated into a decades-long string of excellent productions in Caplin Theater. Among the many memorable sets, several stand out including his depiction of the East Village of the 1990s for Rent; the Royal Navy ship for HMS Pinafore; and the June Rebellion in Paris for Les Misérables.   

Moreover, there were frequent times when the Student Life offices needed a quick alteration of the theater, an impromptu spotlight, or some enhanced localized sound.  All it took was for me to walk over and talk to Gil, accept his rebuke for not telling him earlier, before receiving a promise that it would be done.  Invariably, it would be done by him personally, or by one of his well-trained students.

Equally if not more importantly, Gil provided courageous leadership and tremendous support to a generation of gay, transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary students. He was the founding faculty advisor to the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Bisexual, and Transgender organization (GLSBTQ+), which, soon after its founding in 1995, became one of the school’s most active and vibrant student advocacy groups. He continued to sponsor its successor organization, the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA), and was a regular speaker at the club’s annual Love Week celebration and symposium.

For 36 years, Gil Thompson poured his professional self into the Sidwell Friends community. In addition to the legacy of former students who seek him out, his legacy includes the enviable tradition of excellent theater production, and the ongoing vitality of the GSA. He laid down the foundation and nurtured these great traditions of our school.

Let us wish him well in his retirement.