Beloved Theatre Professor Reid Davis Dies

Reid DavisSaint Mary’s has lost beloved former faculty member Reid Davis, who died on Thursday, June 20. Davis taught primarily in the Performing Arts Department from 2005–2015, and directed a number of significant productions (including Urinetown, Sweeney Todd, Spring Awakening, and Angels in America). He founded SMC’s co-curricular Interactive Theatre Troupe, served as a board member and instructor in the Ethnic Studies Program, taught courses in Seminar and Communication, and spearheaded important diversity and inclusion initiatives for the Office of the Provost. Davis was also instrumental in founding and supporting The Bash and Lavender Graduation, along with other programs to help LGBTQIA students find strength in community.

“Reid was a highly regarded and beloved colleague, a mentor to many students, and a campus leader who made a striking impact for positive change on the campus,” said Vice President for Mission Frances Sweeney. 

Davis himself spoke to the intrinsic value of studying art: “Occasionally, I’m asked, as a teacher of theatre, about the terrible impossibility of an arts career and ‘making a living’ in the arts. As if the only reason for kids (or anyone) to study an art form is to find out if they’ve ‘got it.’ As if the study of art only matters if you’re able eventually to monetize that effort. As if we aren’t all artists who’ve been traumatized somehow for having a basic human creative soul or expressing ourselves freely. Art and education are synonymous. To study art, to engage in any art form with complete abandon, is revolutionary. The purpose of art and education is the same: to liberate.”

Davis’ colleagues across Saint Mary’s campus expressed their love, admiration, and deep sense of loss.

“Reid’s decision to produce Angels in America was already courageous. But that he was able to work with our students to create such a brilliant, moving performance was a milestone, both in the history of SMC Theatre and in the history of SMC’s inclusion of LGBTQ people,” said Professor of Theology & Religious Studies Paul Giurlanda.

“He gave tirelessly,” said Performing Arts Department Chair Dana Lawton. “He gave to his students hours of directing, coaching, passion, dreams of imagining beyond limitations. He gave to his colleagues years of committed focus to change our workplace to be more tolerant and accepting. He gave his body to the AIDS rides. He gave his heart, love of laughter, and open arms to all his friends, be they lifelong or a fleeting interaction.”

“He was a tireless and gifted educator, fierce social justice advocate on campus and off, and just a great all-around colleague,” said Associate Professor of Media Technologies and Culture Aaron Sachowitz. “My heart goes out to his family.”

“Many years ago, I saw a reading of Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, parts 1 and 2, at Shotgun Players in Berkeley, where Reid often directed plays,” said Associate Professor of Communication Ellen Rigsby. “In this reading, though, he played the Russian critic Vissarion Belinski quite brilliantly. Not only was Reid a beloved teacher and director, but he was a delightful comic actor. He always led with his heart, for better and worse.”

“Reid, with his big, beautiful, generous, creative, loving, empathic, and brilliant energy, transformed our community,” said Associate Professor of Sociology Cynthia Ganote. “The College continues to benefit from his Interactive Theatre Troupe and curriculum, his intergroup dialogue class and all that has come from it (constant accolades at NCORE for our student intergroup dialogue program—Reid and Corliss Watkins lifted this legacy from the ground up), the accolades he and his students won at national and regional theater conferences, and so, so much more. Reid gave Saint Mary’s everything he had, and we are far richer for his choosing to spend a decade of his life here, serving and creating and teaching and devising, in this community.” 

“I only met Reid in person a handful of times, but each time he was quick to offer kind words, a sparkling smile, and a warm hug,” said Assistant Professor of Design and Technical Theatre Deanna Zibello. “I had plans to collaborate with him this summer, and I was looking forward to getting to know him better. I’m truly sorry for this loss and most especially for all those who loved him.”

“Reid was a part of my introduction to Saint Mary’s,” said Associate Professor in the KSOE Raina Leon. “Early on, I saw his work with Interact. I had worked deeply with pedagogy of the oppressed and theatre of the oppressed practitioners, so to see his work in practice felt like a rooting here.”  

“So many have written beautiful words that touch and attempt to capture Reid’s ebullience and authenticity,” said Senior Diversity Officer Gloria Aquino Soza. “I met him at new-faculty day in August 2011, then at all-faculty day a few days later... and felt a connection to the joy he brought his work and the skits he directed that day about reporting academic dishonesty. I was captivated by his enthusiasm for his students, his refusal to let the audience off the hook, and his boundless energy as he ran around the big Soda Center room filled with faculty, getting us to participate.”

Davis earned a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. His most recent position was Director of Education for the Marin Theatre Company; he had plans to take a performance of a recent production to Suzhou, China, in collaboration with Professor Jia Wu from the SMC Dance Program.