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Subject: Actress Maria Mason

Dies at 64
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Date Posted: Friday, March 20, 11:06:43am

Maria Louise Moessen

Maria Louise Moessen, born on February 19, 1956, died at home in Weaverville, NC early in the morning on February 29, 2020 at age 64. Maria survived nearly two years with pancreatic cancer.

She was an enthusiastic participant in a clinical trial of experimental chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins Medical Institute that kept her cancer at bay, had minimal side effects, and prospered her energetic lifestyle. Sadly she was overcome by a progression of the disease over the last few months. She remained highly motivated and gave directives to persons she had designated to carry a number of projects she longed to see completed forward. And "I want you to have a party .." was one of the last things she whispered. Vintage and Viva Maria! She found and inspired wonder and delight in the people and places of her life.

Her amazing family of friends can't really believe she is gone! She was an accomplished theatre and film actor and teacher known professionally as Maria Mason. Her love of language and acting was first realized while attending Hendersonville HS in WNC just four miles north of the State Theatre of NC at Flatrock Playhouse. She interned summers and would early in her career play Lizzie in The Rainmaker and Pamela in Nude with Violin there.

Her stellar repertoire ranged from the classical to originals to tap-dancing musical comedies in NYC and major regional theatres of the eastern US. She attended undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa in Iowa City w/ playwrights Lee Blessing and Adam LeFevre and was selected in a highly competitive national pool for a summer scholarship program at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco in 1975.

She earned a BFA in English, French and History (1980) and an MFA in Acting (1982) invited by the legendary Tom Haas at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where she was inspired by special units of Chekhov w/ renowned actors Ed Binns and Elizabeth Franz. She performed Meg in The Hostage and Olivia in Twelfth Night for the Equity PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill and met her future husband, Paul Schierhorn, a visiting cast professional for the Twelfth Night production, there in 1982. They would pursue their mutual aspirations in NYC, living in Brooklyn (1982-1990) and were married in 1986. Maria's artistic capabilities were unleashed in NYC through advanced tutorial studies at the T. Schreiber Studio under the mentorship of Terry Schreiber and Carol Reynolds (Body Dynamics).

She truly found herself as an actress in this, performing memorable roles as Celia (As You Like It), Belinda (The Public Eye), Maria (Closing) and Madame Popova (The Bear). Her other NYC work included lead performances for Riverside Shakespeare, St. MIchael's Church, Douglas Fairbanks Theatre and T Schreiber Studio Theatre.

As fate would decree, she relocated from NYC to join Paul in New Orleans in 2000. He was a noted actor, lyricist and composer of musical theatre when he left NYC to pursue a career teaching theatre at Tulane University. Maria was a pillar of support for his theatre works The News (Broadway, Tony Nomination), Glad All Over (Tulane Univ) and more. She herself became adjunct professor of Theatre and Dance at Tulane for 14 years. She taught the T. Schreiber technique (grounded in Meisner) to a 4th generation of students.

She cultivated her own methodology of Shakespeare study which she imparted with great artistry and passion. She described her popular undergraduate class Fundamentals of Acting for Non-Majors as having "strict standards, great results". Nick Basta, a native of Syracuse NY credits Maria for jump starting his acting career by coaching him into the Harvard University American Repertory Theatre's MFA program. Nick vows that "There is a red carpet in the sky for Maria, his beloved mentor and friend". Maria embraced NOLA culture wholeheartedly and continued her own acting career there playing lead roles in Southern Repertory Theatre productions including Three Hotels, The Celestials, A Woman of Property (incl touring to Tbilisi), and Hamlet.

Her portrayal of Annie Sullivan in the The Miracle Worker won her several Big Easy Awards including Best Actress delivered by Proclamation of the NOLA City Council in April of 1994. The role of Agnes the knitter in the Dog and Pony Theatre production of Dancing at Lughnasa in 1993 also won Big Easy Awards for Best Drama and Best Ensemble. Her portrayal of Sonya in Uncle Vanya (incl touring to Budapest in September 2000) was lauded by the American ambassador to Hungary at the time.

She was a Company Actor, Associate Artistic Director and Director of Education for Southern Rep from 1993-2001 and implemented a redesign for apprentice training reaching over 400 youth and 22 college assistants. Southern Rep presented her a Special Recognition Award for her work in 2002. New Orleanian Scott Jefferson, a frequent acting partner of Maria's, visited her before she died and aptly explained her legacy. "She was a much loved woman in NOLA"!

Her final stage role was for NC Stage Company's world debut of Stalking the Bogeyman in Asheville in 2016. Maria earned film credits in roles for Hot Flashes (w/ Brooke Shields), Last Holiday (with Queen Latifah), JFK (w/ Kevin Costner) and Deal (as co-star w/ Burt Reynolds). Her TV credits included co-starring roles in Drop Dead Diva, HBO's Treme, Vampire Bats, Stuck in the Suburbs, and Spirit. She was a member of stage and film unions for over 30 years.

Two years after losing their home in Hurricane Katrina, Maria and Paul gave in to the pressures that plagued their efforts to remain in NOLA, son Will's birthplace and childhood home. The opportunity for Paul to take a teaching position at Mars Hill University sealed a move back to the mountains of WNC near where Maria had grown up. She reconnected with her childhood confidants, cared for her aging mother, and set about the work of establishing the family's new home in "little ol' Weaverville" as she called it.

Her presence made a positive difference in the lives of her neighbors and the greater Asheville community. She engaged with Will's formative music, sports and academic career and saw him succeed in spite of difficulties, especially his dad Paul's dying with cancer in 2012.

She proudly celebrated his joyful graduation from UNC-Asheville in May 2018. Lately she adored reading and studying Shakespeare with him on a regular basis. All the while she leaned into new acting and teaching opportunities, performing roles in Southern Appalachian Rep and NC Stage productions, continuing work in film and TV productions, as an Academy Instructor with the Asheville Arts Center, and auditioning for a role she very much saw herself in just last fall. Screen Actors Coop founder Jon Menick wrote, "Goodbye dear friend, Actor and sweet inspiration. I loved your courage, intelligence and grace. Thank you from everyone you helped." Maria felt a vast passion for the human condition and especially for the state of social justice in America.

She attended the National Women's March in Washington DC in 2017. With her partner and their children she visited the National Monument for Peace and Justice and EJI's Legacy Museum in Montgomery, AL in the Spring of 2018. She was inspired by EJI founder Bryan Stevenson's (Just Mercy) liberating truth eloquently spoken to a packed Kimmel Arena at UNCA last year. She visited the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park in Church Creek, MD last summer and later ate crabs and oysters and contemplated Harriett's escape from slavery through the marshes of what is now the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

Michener's Chesapeake provided her an insightful path to confronting the truth about about America's history of slavery. Maria loved art, literature, life and God. She was born in East Brunswick NJ. Her family relocated to the Laurel Park neighborhood of Hendersonville NC when she was seven years old. Her childhood memories of cats, dress up, picture books, her Mom's art books, Nancy Drew novels, biking, swimming, coloring books and classic cartoons, I Love Lucy and Harpo Marx, hiking, rope swinging, tree climbing and treehouse overnights, drawing, cooking, hiking, flower arranging, pen pal writing, and art and fashion exploration with her talented mother abounded.

Special friends from her early childhood who were like sisters to her (Ginny Taylor, Frosty Sinclair, Debbie Mack and others) were with her from those days until the day she died .. you all know who you are! Maria was predeceased by her mother Mina Butz Moessen, her father Gustav William Moessen, her younger brother Gustave William Moessen, Jr. and his wife Carolyn, and by her husband Paul Schierhorn. She is survived by her loving son Will Warren Schierhorn, her sister Sara Johnson Moessen (Andrew), her nieces Lisa Wyatt (Jason) and Rebecca Johnson (Blayne), in-laws Carl and Ann Schierhorn and their daughter Karen Schierhorn (Grant), and her Butz family cousins. She is also survived by a faithful pal and companion Roscoe Briggs Sherwood and his children.

A Memorial and Celebration of Maria's Life and Legacy is tentatively scheduled for 11 am on the morning of May 16, 2020 at Grace Episcopal Church Asheville NC, Fr Gary Butterfield presiding. Maria's friends and her son Will Schierhorn will also host a celebration of her life in NOLA at a later time and place TBA. Memorials for Maria may be addressed to her formative charity "Someone Cares" c/o the Asheville City Schools Foundation PO Box 3196 Asheville NC 28802.

Published in The Times-Picayune on Mar. 22, 2020.


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