Class Dismissed

April 8, 2011

Sometimes, when you’ve removed yourself from everything that has come before, it is almost like you have died. The people, places and events of your past become frozen in that moment when you airlifted yourself out of everything you knew, and everytime you come home to visit, you are shocked to find that things have changed.

In many ways, the people and circumstances of my life in the early nineties, the years before I came to Korea, have become a personal mythology. Today, I lost a god.

My expat friends here in Korea will all understand how strange the experience of news of a death at home can be. You get the phone call, or email. The landscape turns upside down for a moment. But, there is no one to go visit, no funeral to attend. Friends and family here in Korea – the ones that you will turn to for hugs and cups of tea – have never met the person that you have lost. So, you take your moment, you tuck it away in your pocket, and it never becomes real.

For me, this morning – it was a post on Facebook. My beloved Acting teacher, Arif Hasnain, has passed away.

I could tell you how he terrorized us the first time he ever conducted a cast meeting, how he got blitz-faced drunk and went after us one by one, tearing down our walls.

I could tell you that he could scream as well as he could purr, and that the phrase “hopping mad” was coined especially for him.

that he turned our small Theatre department inside out, and made us question everything we had learned.

that he should have been fired, many times over.

that he needed to work himself up to a razor-sharp edge, often with alcohol, in order to cut through all the bullshit we believed about ourselves.

But, I won’t.

I will tell you that he taught me all about the truth.

that a smile of approval from him was worth the world.

that he was one of the softest, sweetest men I have ever known.

I will tell you that the closest I ever came to being a really good actor were the moments I spent in his class- that these moments are an important part of who I believe I am, moments where I disappeared completely and yet was fully myself.

Today, I wish I could be with my old classmates. We were a small class – just 4 guys and 5 girls. We were an incestuous, complex little group, working our issues out all over each other. We were everything- sisters, brothers, lovers, friends, compatriots, teachers and students. We are all, also, artists. For that, I know we owe a big debt to one another.

We owe Arif even more.
He is forever in my pocket.


  1. This is wonderful, Shelley. When I moved on from the theatre program, I never went back to tell him how profoundly he influenced me — an influence which grows over the years. If I learned one thing from Arif Hasnain (and I learned much more than one) it was how to know when I was bullshitting myself.

    For that I am thankful.

    Peace by with you.

  2. Ah, Shelley, so sorry to hear about this loss. I never met Arif. Had I stayed a year or so longer in the program, I would have had that privilege. But by stories from those who did, I gleaned he was definitely a special person who commanded a forceful presence in their lives. Hugs to you on this sad news.

  3. Shelley, I almost cried while reading this. I am a recent graduate from Grenfell. A classmate sent me a link to this. I was in the last class Arif taught before he was forced to retire, which was incredibly sad in itself. Though he did buy a nice place in Nova Scotia and got the chance to relax on the waterfront. He was ill for some time, spending several months in the hospital. I can only hope that he went peacefully.

    Everything I’ve learned about acting has come from him. Everything that I plan to base my career and life off is from that wonderful man. I could not have worded it any better than you have. He had his flaws, and he showed us ours. I would never trade that experience for anything in the entire world.

    It is a sad day for thousands of people, and yet he was such a humble man.

  4. I’m really glad I came across this. I was just hoping I could find some details on his death online, but instead, I found life.

    I was in the class right after Donovan and had Arif as a teacher for one semester. You have put into words so perfectly how I felt about Arif. He was the kindest, most gentle-hearted man and he was flawed. He would not accept anything less than your absolute best and if he made you cry in the process, it would all be worth it. I saw how how would cut into my other classmates and refused to allow him to have to correct me. What made me cry was that he never did have to – he would tell me that he was proud of me, that I did everything so perfectly. He would snow hat he was not a hardened man.

    I will never forget, a rabbit was brought into class one day and it was visibly spooked by the surroundings. Arif smiled, picked it up in his arms and the rabbit instantly calmed down and went to sleep. It was the most touching things we had ever seen and that memory will stick with me forever.

    At least now he is with Bumbles, where he belongs.

  5. Shelley,
    While I was not in your class I came across this and was moved. Arif’s passing has affected me more than anything I can remember recently. I will never forget that when I first was accepted to Grenfell I turned it down to go on a small tour across Canada. When I called a year later to reapply, the first thing he said to me was “Hello Jim, how is the tour going?” How he remembered I will not know but the fact that he did made all the difference to me. His passion and desire for us to be greater than we were is what has made me so much of who I am. I would have loved nothing more than to sit in his presence one more time. The only show he directed me in was a Feydeau and for the whole process he was frustrated with me and kept pushing me and pushing me and saying “what are you doing?” over and over again. I was ready to give up and then during notes after dress rehearsal (every night he had copious notes for me) I waited and waited and after 45 minutes of notes I had received none when finally I could see he was on his last page and I thought I was so bad that he had given up on me when he looked at me grinned and bounced up and down in his chair like he was going to burst with joy and said “Jim – you got it!” The love and joy that was in that moment was almost overbearing and as quickly as he moved on to the next person 13 years have passed since I have seen him.

  6. Dear Shelley – It goes without saying that I feel extremely sorry for your recent loss. He seems to have both touched and positively influenced many lives. As we grow older it finally becomes apparent that we are who we are based upon the people we have walked down the trail with in some past life. In the end, the best thing that any of us can leave behind is a positive influence on as many people as we can possibly touch along the way. This transfer of knowledge is far more meaningfull and important than any other material thing.

  7. Thank you for putting those thoughts, feelings, and emotions into those eloquent words. You always could.

  8. I just learned today that Arif had died. I was trying to decide what that meant to me – what he meant to me. You got it right. He made us question everything. I have no bad memories of Arif. He once told me that I was a lazy actor. I didn’t want to hear it, but it was the truth. And I owe him much for pointing that out.

  9. Like Donovan, I came here via a friend’s link. I thought I had got the crying out, but your words broke me open again.
    I know that smile of approval. I know the fury that his well chosen ‘words’ could invoke. I know that I probably didn’t really feel in my regular life as much as Arif made me feel in 3 semesters. He taught me.. well, he taught me too much to even start describing it. For that, I thank him. For honestly recounting the in class experience – I thank you.

  10. Shelly;
    This is a wonderful tribute ..

  11. This is a beautiful representation. So much truth. I’ll never forget how hard he pushed us. I’ll never forget the day that he told me how wonderful he thought I could be. I’ll never forget Arif. Who could?
    Thank you for this post. 🙂

  12. Thank you to commenters old and new for sharing your thoughts and memories. Some beautiful memories and thoughts in these comments – you are welcome back anytime.

  13. Shelley

    This is an absolutely beautiful tribute to a man who has obviously had a profound affect on many peoples lives. Most of us do not know one another but we all have Arif in common. You somehow managed to capture the essence of every acting class that I had with Arif in theatre school. He was a gentle, sweet man who through methods that are as unconventional as the man himself was able to bring the absolute best out of his students in that rehearsal hall. I loved him dearly and I am going to miss him. Once again thank you.

    Mark Bradbury

  14. Shelley,

    Thanks for that. Very well put. Everything I think I know about this profession I learned from him. I am so grateful for his guidance and his snarl and his many tea bags fished from a stained mug with his fingers as we headed back into class. It doesn’t seem real to me either. I’m glad he’s in that pocket. It’s a nice pocket. Love you,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: