ECU News Services
April 10, 2017
By Crystal BaityECU News Services
D. Shearin III, professor and director of the School of Theatre and Dance at
East Carolina University, died Sunday, April 9. He was 72.
addition to leading the school for 27 years, Shearin taught student actors and produced
and directed productions for ECU.
year, Shearin announced his decision to step back from the chair position to concentrate
solely on teaching beginning this fall.
has been the guiding light of our theatre and dance program for the better part
of three decades,” said Dr. Chris Buddo, dean of the College of Fine Arts and
Communication. “His work has impacted the lives of countless students and
faculty over the course of his time here. John’s leadership was so effective
because he always kept a sharp focus on the mission of the school and the good
of the students.”
Shearin produced more than 195 plays and
musicals for the ECU/Loessin Playhouse and Summer Theatre. He directed 72 productions
and acted in about a dozen, several of which he significantly reconstructed or
adapted for ECU’s facilities and students.
In 2015, Shearin was awarded ECU’s Lifetime
Achievement Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activity, one of the
most prestigious awards given by the university.
John was a wonderful mentor to me when I first came to ECU as director of the
School of Music,” Buddo said. “He had a warm and generous spirit and will be
Ron Mitchelson, provost at ECU, also remembered Shearin’s mentorship. “My first
year here, he was the one who spent time with me. He was always generous with
his time,” Mitchelson said. “He was a wonderful academic leader at ECU for
decades with tremendous impact on students and faculty. He will be missed.”
Clark, a longtime ECU colleague, said Shearin “provided us with the highest of
standards for which to strive and embraced every opportunity to encourage
all those who came in contact with him to reach outstanding heights in
their craft, their teaching and their work.
stalwart leader who set the pace for dedication, energy and artistic insight,
John touched the hearts and minds of audience members, students, faculty
and staff who will long remember him as the beacon of light on life’s
amazing journey,” Clark said.
A Vietnam War veteran, Shearin graduated with a
bachelor’s degree in theatre from the College of William and Mary and received
his master’s degree of fine arts from Penn State University, where he worked
with the touring and resident graduate company.
He appeared in network television shows
including “Matlock,” “Designing Women,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Hunter,” “Little
House on the Prairie,” “American Gothic” and “Bret Maverick.” Even as a working
TV actor, he stayed involved in theater including stints on and off Broadway
and in several Los Angeles area theatres, the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.
and the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He was a founding member and associate director of the Playhouse West School of
Acting in Los Angeles before deciding on a move for his young, growing family.
“I discovered I liked working with young people,” Shearin said in a 2015
interview when he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. “I enjoyed that
mentoring, of working with young actors to help their development as actors and
performers. Teaching was something I always wanted to do.”
Shearin started looking at education-based
theater and called Ed Loessin after seeing an ad for a teaching job at ECU.
Loessin had been the stage manager of the North Carolina outdoor drama “Unto
these Hills,” where Shearin’s father once acted.
The teaching position was temporary, and
Shearin didn’t want to uproot his family for a one-year appointment. But
Shearin called Loessin again after seeing a posting weeks later for the
chairman of the department.
After 18 years as a working actor, Shearin
became chairman of the then ECU Department of Theatre Arts in fall 1990. He was
only the second chairman of the department. The first was Loessin, who helped
found it in 1963. Later named the Department of Theatre and Dance, Shearin was
at the helm when the department became a school within the College of Fine Arts
and Communication established in 2003.
Shearin, who spent time as a child on his
grandparent’s farm in nearby Edgecombe County, received a warm welcome when he
was hired. He recognized the potential for growing the arts in eastern North
Carolina. “The foundation was so good and the possibilities for building the
program were so strong,” he said in the 2015 interview.
Under Shearin’s leadership, the school grew
significantly in enrollment and majors, drawing thousands of patrons to student
productions each year in Messick and McGinnis theatres and Wright Auditorium. A recent
project has been the development of a much-needed dance studio.
Shearin is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and three children.
of Shearin’s life will be held May 7 in McGinnis Theatre. A scholarship fund is
being established in his memory. For more information, contact Mary Jane Gaddis
in the College of Fine Arts and Communication at 252-328-1268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
at ECU’s faculty convocation in 2015, John Shearin recalled a pair of one-act
plays he wrote, directed and starred in early in his career. The plays arose from his experiences as a
soldier during the Vietnam War, and he recounted some of the emotional
responses the performances drew from fellow veterans and what those reactions
meant to him. “It’s an experience I wish for all of my students,” he said.