Sears Eldredge

Sears Atwood Eldredge

1936 - 2024

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Obituary of Sears Atwood Eldredge

SEARS ATWOOD ELDREDGE passed away on March 26, 2024 at Episcopal Homes in St. Paul, Minnesota. An influential professor of mask performance training, theater history and directing, Sears’s legacy endures in the lives and work of students throughout the world. Born in Chatham, MA, on April 20, 1936, Sears is preceded in death by his parents, Raymond Atwood Eldredge and Ethel Marchant Eldredge, and by his sister, Daphne (Dame) and half-brother, Bernard Nickerson II. He was the devoted husband of Patricia Reid Eldredge, a Hamline University English professor and Sears’s research partner, who passed away in 2020. Sears is survived by brothers-in-law Roger and John, their partners and children, and by beloved niece Denise (Dame) Colombino of South Kingstown, RI. He is also survived by his and Pat’s feline family members, Sunny and Shadow.

A direct descendant of 16th century Cape Cod settlers and sea captains, Sears was impressed at an early age by aesthetic concerns of composition, pattern and performance. His father was a landscape designer, proprietor of Eldredge Gardens which created and tended gardens at homes and estates throughout Cape Cod. Eldredge Gardens closed during WWII, and the Eldredge family moved to a potato farm in Warwick, R.I., and then closer to Providence to try landscaping again. Sears won a scholarship to a boys’ choir school, where he sang in concerts and church services throughout the area. When he attended Hope High School in Providence, he took as many theater and art classes as possible and won a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design. Sears chose instead to attend Barrington College (now Gordon College) – a fortuitous choice as he met his future wife there, Patricia Reid of Lebanon, NH. Sears joined the Air Force right after college and was stationed throughout Asia and southern Europe. Upon his discharge, Sears returned to Rhode Island, where Patricia Reid was teaching English; the couple married in 1962, and embarked on their long shared adventure of teaching, researching, advocating for and making new literature and performance.

Sears earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Directing from Boston University, while Pat earned her MA in English at Brown. The couple then moved to East Lansing, MI to pursue their doctoral work, Pat in Literature and Sears in Theatre, at Michigan State University. MSU was a purposeful, and determinative, choice for Sears: it was the only program in the U.S. at the time with a focus on Asian performance traditions, and Sears’s service overseas had imbued him with intellectual curiosity about the work he saw beyond the U.S.. Upon completing his dissertation in mask performance traditions, Sears was asked to design a theater program for the new Experimental Liberal Arts College at MSU. This work, summoning artistic and administrative expertise, was the taproot of his long life in the arts.

In 1978, Sears and Pat moved to Richmond, Indiana, where Sears joined the theater faculty of Earlham College. The themes of co-learning with students and building stable, visionary theater programs continued with Sears’s work at Earlham, and came into full flower with his appointment as Chair of the theater program at Macalester College in St. Paul, beginning Fall of 1986. At Macalester’s Dramatic Arts & Dance Department, Sears designed a curriculum ahead of its time, that situated American and European theater equally alongside the performance traditions of Asia, Africa and South America. Hundreds of students took Sears’s influential annual course, “Mask Improvisation” and his biennial “Asian Theatres: Tradition, Continuity and Change.” They also received superb training in performance, directing and design by

working with him on productions. Hundreds of Sears’s former students have built lives in theater, dance, education, and related fields -- in Minnesota, the U.S., and on every continent.

Sears Eldredge is the author of Mask Improvisation for Actor Training and Beyond: The Compelling Image. The book was foundational for his course at Macalester, and also for fellow teachers and performers throughout the US and beyond. Upon his retirement from Macalester in 2004, Sears turned his formidable energies to researching little-known performances made by prisoners of war in southeast Asian camps during WWII. The result of that work, which took Sears and Pat to England, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan and elsewhere in search of survivors, performance documents and records, is the stunning digital book, Captive Audiences / Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand-Burma Railway, 1942-1945. As a digital book, Captive Audiences is searchable for oral history audio and transcripts, original plays written by camp members, images of the makeshift, often elaborate, theaters constructed by the prisoners, as well as costume and makeup renderings. It is a trove of otherwise lost and ungathered information, accessible here. Sears also wrote blogposts for “Changi by the Sea,” a project of the Researching FEPOW (Far East POW) History Group, based in the UK. Sears completed his final blog post two weeks before he passed away, satisfied to have completed his series for RFHG. Sears’s robust and intelligent chronicling of this POW theater work is a great service to theater history. Reflecting on this work several weeks before he died, Sears said, “those performers understood that this was a form of protest. This story is about the irrepressibility of theater, even in the most desperate of circumstances.”

Episcopal Homes will host a memorial and celebration of Sears’s life in the Coventry Chapel, Tuesday, April 16, at 2 p.m., 1842 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55104. The event will be live-streamed: Donations in Sears' honor can be made to the Sears A. Eldredge Endowed Scholarship Fund at Macalester College.

A Memorial Tree was planted for Sears
We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Cremation Society of Minnesota