“There are some tremendously creative and high-achieving people on this campus, and to be thought of as one of them is humbling and a great honor,” Shearin said.
“Those of us who have experienced John’s work know that he is a powerful creative force,” said Dr. Chris Buddo, dean of the College of Fine Arts & Communication. “He always brings a fresh perspective and interpretation. His energy, skill and dedication are boundless, and this award is well-deserved.”
It’s not unusual for Shearin to arrive at his Messick office early in the morning and leave late at night following a rehearsal. Long hours accompany an acting career, and students should be prepared for it, he said.
“We instill in them an understanding of the work ethic it takes to be successful in these endeavors,” Shearin said. “When our students leave here, they know how to work as professionals.”
ECU alumni “to a person thank us for that very thing. It’s all about the work ethic and the professional discipline they learn here,” Shearin said. “You want to be the one who is not only talented, but who knows how to work.”
A favorite Shearin saying “if you’re on time, you’re late” speaks to the discipline and preparation expected in the field.
“If you have an 8 o’clock rehearsal, you don’t show up at 8 o’clock,” Shearin said. “If you show up at 8, you’re wasting our time until you get warmed up. Time is too precious to waste any of it.”
As a director, he arrives at least a half hour early “to get my head in the game.” He expects an absolute minimum of 10 minutes for students before rehearsal.
“We try to set the tone,” Shearin said. “There’s a lot of tough love around here because we’re aware of what it takes to succeed. Talent is a part of it, but only a part of it. We constantly remind our students: focus, focus, focus.”
He tells his class “you’re the CEO of Myself, Incorporated,” Shearin said. “You can’t be a hobbyist and be a successful actor. It’s all about the work. It’s our constant refrain.”
Shearin joined ECU following a successful 18-year career as a working actor and director. He is only the second chairman of the department. The first was Ed Loessin, one of the founders of the department in 1963.
Shearin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theatre from the College of William and Mary and received his master’s 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. “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 Loessin after seeing an ad for a teaching job at ECU. It was the same Ed Loessin who 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.
Shearin, who spent time as a kid on his grandparent’s farm in nearby Edgecombe County, received a warm welcome in 1990. “It was easy to see there was a very good foundation here, but I could see there were things we could do differently to advance the program,” Shearin said. “The foundation was so good and the possibilities for building the program were so strong.”
The school has grown significantly in quantity and quality, with more students and more majors offered. A much-needed dance studio is expected to open next year. “People don’t find a difference in the professional and student-populated productions,” Shearin said. “We’re in essence the regional theater east of I-95.”