Gregory A. Falls: Drama Director, Founder of ACT

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"One word appears over and over again in the resume of Gregory A. Falls…the word?--Founder. Two words--vitality and vision--describe the spirit in which he created new theatre programs from coast to coast."

--Agnes Haaga, Professor Emeritus, UW School of Drama

Gregory A. Falls is credited with helping to create in Seattle a strong theater community whose spirit of cooperation, critics say, is envied throughout the country. Falls served as director of the UW School of Drama from 1961 to 1971, taking over the helm upon the retirement of Glenn Hughes (see The Legacy of Drama Professor Glenn Hughes). Having founded theaters in Ohio and Vermont, Falls shared Hughes' keen sense of professionalism while bringing a further commitment to scholarship at the School.

During his tenure, Falls founded the School's Professional Actor Training Program and recruited Duncan Ross and Arne Zaslove to further develop the program (see W. Duncan Ross: Actor, Teacher, and Artistic Director of the Seattle Rep). And in 1965, Falls founded A Contemporary Theater in Seattle, which has become "a thriving year-round professional company presenting the most important new plays of our time," notes Agnes Haaga, well known children's theater pioneer who taught with Falls at the UW School of Drama.

Haaga was one of many colleagues who were on hand to honor Falls in June of 1993 upon his election to the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. The College was established over three decades ago by leaders in the field of theater to recognize those who have distinguished themselves through service, artistic accomplishment, and innovation.

In a citation read at the ceremony, Haaga quoted Seattle Times theater critic Wayne Johnson: "A key reason for the diversity and vigor of the Seattle theater community is the prevailing attitude of symbiotic cooperation which has triumphed over the more common practice of cutthroat competition. Nothing helps a theater here as much as other theaters. Gregory A. Falls [is] one of the people most instrumental in developing the cooperative spirit among Seattle theatres."

Prior to coming to the UW, Falls served as director of drama at the University of Vermont, where he founded the Champlain Shakespeare Festival. In 1959, the New England Theatre Conference honored Falls with its Regional Award for his work with the Festival.

After founding ACT, Falls established the Young ACT Company in 1966, which reaches audiences of children in Seattle and throughout the western U.S. Both ACT companies are known for introducing new scripts. "By 1992, ACT could boast of fourteen world premieres and nineteen American West Coast premieres," notes Haaga, adding that Falls' version of Homer's Odyssey written with Kurt Beattie was selected by Time magazine as one of its Ten Best Plays of 1985--"the only time a play for young audiences had been so honored," she emphasizes. "Odyssey is part of the Seattle Children's Theatre 1996/97 season--a second time around!" adds UW drama director Sarah Nash Gates.

Young ACT received the Jennie Heiden Award in 1980 for "excellence in professional children's theatre and contributions made to the field." The ACT complex as a whole received a Gold Medal from the American College Theatre Festival, John F. Kennedy Center in 1973, and it won the Washington State Governor's Arts Award in 1974.

In 1991, Falls received the Thomas DeGaetani Award from the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology for his lifetime contribution to theatre. He received the Community Service Award from the Corporate Council for the Arts in 1992 for his leadership in helping to build the Seattle theater community. He died in 1997.

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