In memoriam: Earle Gister

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Earle Gister

Earle Gister, an influential figure in the acting world and a faculty member at the Yale School of Drama for two decades, died Jan. 22 at his home in New Haven. He was 77.

“Widely hailed as one of America’s foremost acting teachers, Earle will be mourned by generations of his students and colleagues here at Yale and elsewhere around the world, after a career spanning more than 40 years teaching actors who went on to extraordinary success in theatre, television and film,” wrote Dean James Bundy in a message to the drama school community.

“Speaking as a former student and one-time assistant of Earle’s,” added Bundy, “I can vividly recall his galvanic effect on so many actors, his insightful and soulful readings of the given circumstances of great plays, his deeply thoughtful notes and advice, and his love of ice cream. It is astonishing to think of the breadth of talent that Earle brought to Yale and nurtured here, and it is worth remembering that for years, when he was asked to name the greatest strength of the School of Drama, his inevitably generous reply was, ‘the students.’”

Among the thousands of actors Gister trained are Jane Atkinson, Rene Auberjonois, Rene Augesen, Dylan Baker, Angela Bassett, Julie Boyd, Kate Burton, Patricia Clarkson, Ted Danson, Mark H. Dold, Rick Dutton, Robert Foxworth, Malcolm Gets, Paul Giamatti, Jay Goede, Bruce Katzman, Susan Knight, Sanaa Lathan, Judith Light, Frances McDormand, Chris Noth, Michael Potts, Laila Robbins, Reg Rogers, Liev Schreiber, Richard Schiff, Michele Shay, Steven Skybell, Susan Riley Stevens, Jeff Talbott, John Turturro, Michael Tucker, Courtney Vance, and many others.

Before coming to Yale, Gister played key roles in actor training programs at North Carolina School of the Arts, The Juilliard School, Carnegie Mellon University, City College of New York, the British American Drama Academy and The Actors Center. He was also a co-founder of the League of Professional Theatre Training Programs, an adviser to the National Endowment for the Arts, and co-chair of the training panel of Theatre Communications Group.

He came to Yale in 1979, when Lloyd Richards was dean; he was named the first Lloyd Richards Adjunct Professor of Drama in 1994. For a total of 19 years he served as associate dean of academic affairs and chair of the M.F.A. Acting Program. He retired in 1999.

As a teacher, Gister was particularly known for his insight into the work of Chekhov. At Yale, he directed all of Chekhov’s plays as well as Michael Frayn’s adaptation of Chekhov’s “Platonov,” titled “Wild Honey.”

Of “The Seagull,” he once said, “This play takes a gentle look at what it means to be an artist, particularly an actor or a writer. That question has been on my mind all my life. Therefore, the play involves me on many levels and that kind of richness challenges my creativity to the deepest point.” Coincidentally, “The Seagull” is being staged by the Yale School of Drama through Jan. 28.

His teachings were captured in the book “Acting: The Gister Method,” written in collaboration with Joe Alberti. It will be released this year by Pearson Academic.

Gister’s wife, Glynda, predeceased him in 2010; they were married for 51 years. He is survived by their three children: Carey, Brian, and Andy; and two grandchildren, Reed and Zoe.

A Facebook group called “Friends of Earle Gister” has been created

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