Forrest E. Sears, 88, of Moscow, ID, Emeritus Professor of Theatre made his final exit from this earthly stage on January 26, 2022.
Arriving at the University of Idaho in 1966, he had planned—like many young academics—to do his two years and move on. But the landscape and talent of the students endeared him so that two years became thirty-one. Energizing the established base of the university dramatics department, Forrest brought the professional and academic structure from the renowned Pittsburgh Playhouse in Pittsburgh, PA and created rigorous training programs for aspiring acting and directing professionals. He also developed the performance curriculum for the BFA and MFA degrees and headed the acting and directing program. Forrest enjoyed the students in the 18 different classes he taught over the years and was amazed at their talent.
At the fourth annual Kennedy Center-American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) Region 7 gathering, the acting program was recognized when U of I’s production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, directed by Forrest, was invited to perform in 1973. Gary Chappelle, one of Forrest’s students won the regional Irene Ryan acting scholarship that year and went to Washington D.C. to compete at national. Forrest directed five more shows that went to regionals over the years. In 1985, Idaho was the only university to win the regional Irene Ryan acting award 3 years in a row. That year Idaho also sent nine Irene Ryan nominees.
During the summers, Forrest was involved in summer theatre. Being a proponent of the American repertory theatre movement, he changed Summer Theatre’s format from stock, or doing shows one after the other, to rotating performances. This led to the Summer Theatre being renamed Idaho Repertory Theatre (IRT). He auditioned and directed twenty-four seasons.
Forrest was instrumental in creating the Rex Rabold Fellowship at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). The season long fellowship, named in honor of one of his students, enabled 28 UI alumni to further their education by working the prestigious festival.
He retired from the university in 1997 but would return to direct periodically for IRT until 2010.
Forrest was born July 30, 1933, to Forrest and Louise Sears in San Diego, CA. He was interested in theatre at the age of 11 when magic caught his eye. He performed in a variety of local clubs and lodges as a teen professional magician. That interest in performance continued and he became active in drama at Herbert Hoover High School.
He earned a BA at the University of Redlands, a private liberal arts college. So impressed with the experience there, he returned to teach seminars and established an endowment for theatre students who showed exceptional leadership and promise.
Forrest attended the Yale School of Drama, earning an MFA in directing. After graduation, he returned to San Diego and on a whim auditioned for the pageant California Story starring Art Linkletter and Meredith Wilson and landed his first Equity job. Each actor played 15-20 characters. Other professional jobs in television followed.
Not long after he and friend Dan Whiteside started the Sears-Whiteside Repertory Theatre at the Brookdale Lodge in Santa Cruz, CA. It was one of the earliest American repertory companies inspired by the actor Eva Le Gallienne. They also founded the Sears-Whiteside School of Drama in Santa Cruz, CA, a professional acting school. Forrest was headed for a successful acting career when he started teaching. Once he committed to teaching, working with students, and coaching that became his love.
He was offered a job at the Pittsburgh Playhouse where he joined the acting company and the faculty. While there, he started his PhD but didn’t finish it. Learning French proved insurmountable.
Forrest loved travelling. He made 26 trips to London and visited Europe extensively. He was a frequent visitor to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
During “retirement,” he taught in New Zealand for a summer and in Finland. The University of Redlands had him back for acting workshops. He attended the 2020 KCACTF Region 7 conference to give a directing workshop.
Last spring, he published his much-awaited book Director Actor Coach.
Besides being acknowledged as an emeritus professor, Forrest had received accolades throughout his life. Among those of note was the 1997 Teacher of the Year Award from the university, 1998 Mayor’s Award in the Arts-Arts Educator, and 2020 KCACTF Gold Medallion for lifetime service and contribution to theatre.
He leaves behind an uncounted number of students, who carry on his teaching in their varied careers, and friends. As Rob Caisley, head of U of I Theatre recently wrote, “At the U of I, he mentored, coached, championed, and encouraged a galaxy of young theatre artists (including some of our most prestigious alumni and current faculty.)”
Thank you to Marie Martson for her angelic passion and caring presence during Forrest’s hospice.
A celebration of his life is planned when the weather is warmer, and the flowers are in bloom. To honor his memory, donations are suggested to the University of Idaho’s Forrest Sears Faculty Award in Theatre Arts or the Forrest Sears Scholarship Endowment. www.givecampus.com/campaigns/3269/donations/new
Though my world has gone awry,
Though the end is drawing nigh,
I shall love you till I die,
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