Eric Forsythe, Department of Theatre Arts
Ask Eric Forsythe to name his favorite roles, and he’ll mention King Lear, Sherlock Holmes, and Tartuffe. Another role the University of Iowa theatre arts faculty member is fond of: Iowa Summer Rep artistic director, a position he’s held since 1986.
During Forsythe’s time as artistic director, Summer Rep has produced the works of 23 outstanding contemporary playwrights, including August Wilson, Neil Simon, and Tony Kushner. The 2010 season opens June 22, and will feature plays by Theresa Rebeck, who has won numerous awards for her stage, film and TV work, including Law & Order and NYPD Blue.
Forsythe, a recipient of the University’s Philip G. Hubbard Award for Outstanding Education, received a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a Master of Fine Arts and a doctorate from Carnegie-Mellon University. He has directed well over 150 stage productions, served as the national and international voice for companies such as AT&T and DuPont, and taught a first-ever course for professional stage directors in Venezuela.
Before Summer Rep 2010 raises the curtain, Forsythe spoke with fyi about his favorite moments at Iowa, what he finds most exciting about this year’s production, and a career move that favored the stage over the stethoscope.
You’ve been Summer Rep’s artistic director for nearly 25 years. Do you have a favorite moment?
I have loved the challenges and opportunities it has provided all along. One highpoint was certainly our 1993 season, when we created four full productions from the work of playwright Robert Schenkkan, including the massive two-evening Kentucky Cycle, pre-Broadway. Schenkkan was here, rewriting while we rehearsed. Apart from the work itself, that season was notable for the flood that shut us down midseason. We later were able to remount the work in the fall. The poignancy of seeing so many people pull together to create something that would matter in our community was extraordinary.
What brought you to the University?
Wonderfully persuasive people who knew my work as a professional and who knew how much I love to teach. They convinced me that Iowa was one of the few places where teaching and working professionally are both appreciated and encouraged.
What has you most excited about Summer Rep 2010?
The people I get to work with. Our playwright, Theresa Rebeck, is an extraordinary talent who writes amazing plays. Her work has generated a lot of excitement in our theatre community: actors, directors, designers, technicians. When so many great people are focused on making a great product, you can’t help but be really excited!
You’ve worked with some big-name actors—do any of those experiences stand out, for one reason or another?
Oh, the stories I could tell… Working with people like Ted Danson, Geena Davis, Sylvia Sidney, David Strathairn, Oliver Platt, John Sayles, Betsy Palmer, Jason Robards, Sarah Jessica Parker, you can’t help but have a lot of stories to tell. Just maybe not in print!
The best lesson I’ve learned in this regard is that everyone has their warts. Thus, one need not be intimidated by anyone. More important is to look for the best qualities in everyone.
You’ve done voice work. Something a person is born to do, or something that can be done well with training?
The voice work I do professionally is as a narrator or other voice talent for creative and commercial (“voice-over”) projects of all kinds. I’ve done voice work for NPR, plays, TV, and films. I’ve been “the voice” for huge corporations (like IBM, DuPont, ARA, AT&T, Clorox), tiny companies (local banks, small businesses), training DVDs (Black & Decker, the UI College of Nursing), and the official history of the University on DVD. I’ve been blessed with a good natural voice, but I’ve had a lot of training, too, and years of experience. Like so many creative enterprises, it’s probably a healthy combination of both talent and training.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?
Taking risks is part of our profession. For me, I have a number of scars to attest to some physical risks. Then there are the emotional risks that you take as an actor whenever you’re on stage, and particularly with certain very demanding roles. But I suppose the biggest risk overall was the decision to pursue the theatre instead of medicine, which was where I was headed as a premed at Dartmouth. It was the right decision for me, though hardly easy. I think I’ve done more to change the world as an actor/director than I ever would have as a doctor.
by Christopher Clair