Actress in a City of Friends Norma Fire, the actress best known for her work with David Gordon's Pickup Performance Company, and with the Kitchen Theater in Ithaca, died at the Haven Hospice at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan on October 11th. The cause was cancer. She was 75.
Ms. Fire was born on June 9, 1937 in Bensonhurst and raised in East Flatbush. Her parents, Sam Fire and Miriam (Stern) Fire, emigrated from Warsaw in the early 1920's. Sam worked as a textile warper and shop foreman in a family lingerie company, and Miriam was a homemaker.
Norma's theatrical career began at Ms. Pat's School of the Dance in Brooklyn where she perfected a trademark high kick and was teaching tap by the age of 12. She attended Samuel J. Tilden High School and graduated from Brooklyn College, taking a degree in Sociology at the insistence of her parents, who feared her desire to be an actress.
Despite their concerns, she acted in college theater productions where she worked with fellow student David Gordon. She performed in many of his works over the subsequent decades, including The Mysteries and What's So Funny; Uncivil Wars; and Aristophanes in Birdonia. She last worked with Mr. Gordon's company in June of 2012 at the Joyce Soho Theater in the premiere of his work, "Beginning of the End of theâ€¦."
For a few years after college, Ms. Fire was a social worker in San Francisco, acting part-time, but eventually deciding to make her life in the theater. Early in her career she performed in The Macaroni Show at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco and in cabaret in Detroit with Soupy Sales.
An "actor's actor," who happily lived an actor's life, she transitioned fluidly from post-modern to naturalistic work and was a key company member of The Actors' Theater of St. Paul, the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival in High Point, the Kitchen Theater in Ithaca, and a member of New York Theater Workshop's Usual Suspects and the Riverside Shakespeare Festival. In support of emerging playwrights, she created characters in readings and premieres of countless new plays including works by playwrights Kenneth Lonergan, Ain Gordon, Jason Odell Williams, and Rachel Lampert, as well as in independent and student films. She appeared in a recurring role as Judge Jensen on Law & Order, on a recent episode of Royal Pains, in television commercials and voice-overs, and in films including Robot Stories and the recent remake of the film The Producers.
She was a member of Actor's Equity and SAG/AFTRA as well as of the Theatrical Wardrobe Workers Union, as she was also a talented seamstress who worked backstage on several Broadway shows, including Cats. Ms. Fire was a natural raconteur with a rich alto speaking voice. She frequently narrated the tale of her father's emigration in The Blood Orange, a concert piece for piano, violin and narrator with music by Max Lifchitz and text by Kathleen Masterson, last performed in April of 2012 at Lincoln Center's Bruno Walter Auditorium.
She narrated a dance work, The Most Dangerous Room in the House, for Susan Marshall and Company at BAM's Next Wave Festival. She was a regular narrator for the Jewish Braille Institute and her nuanced recordings for the blind ran the gamut from eloquent Torah readings to interpretations of Playboy Magazine articles with mischievous visual description of the photographs. She delighted in being recognized on the streets of New York by her voice alone.
Wherever she worked, she always returned to the center of her world on West 11th Street, where she had constructed a city of extraordinary friendships. Her love of her life in that city, and her fierce will to keep living it were embodied in her two and a half year encounter with cancer. This struggle might be distilled into a lasting image from a few months ago: Ms. Norma Fire pedaling her familiar blue three-speed bicycle uptown from West 11th to an intravenous chemotherapy session at Sloan Kettering on East 53rd and then all the way downtown again to a rehearsal in Soho and home again to West 11th after dark. Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
Norma Fire is survived in California by her niece and nephew, Genevieve Fire-Halvorsen (Chris), an engineer, and Andrew Fire (Rachel), a molecular biologist and a 2006 Nobel Prize winner in medicine and four grand-nieces and nephews: Sam Carl Halvorsen, Anne Fire Halvorsen, Nathan Krantz-Fire, Margalit Kranz-Fire. She will be mourned by her cousins in Florida, Nadia Rosenfeld and family, and additional cousins in England, Israel and Canada.
Norma leaves her sister-in-law, Janet Sherak Fire, wife of Ms. Fire's brother, the late Philip Fire, forever bonded as sisters since Norma was 13 years old. Others of the Sherak family, although not official kin, loved and claimed her as their own, including Bob Sherak (Iliana) and their wonderful daughter, Paloma, of New York.
She will be remembered by her close neighbors on West 11th Street where for years they nurtured a flourishing roof-garden. There was also time for serious Scrabble, shopping at Trader Joe's and the Union Square Farmer's Market, and the search for the ultimate sushi in Norma's city of exceptional friends. Those who could be with her at the end filled her days with love while they came to accept that she had to leave us.
A memorial is planned for a later date and inquiries may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.Donations in Ms. Fire's memory may be given to The Pickup Performance Company in NYC (212-244-7622, email@example.com), The Kitchen Theater in Ithaca (607-272-0403, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or to the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (212-609-1525, email@example.com).