Lawrence remembers Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Drama Fred Gaines

Rebecca Carvalho

Lawrence University Professor Emeritus of Theatre and Drama
Fred Gaines passed away Monday, April 19 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Gaines was 72 years old.
Reflecting on his experiences as a former student of Gaines,
actor and Lawrence alumnus John Middleton ’86 wrote the article “Anti-anxiety of influence” for the Minnesota Playlist website on January 27.
“At Lawrence, Fred would lean back in a chair at the front of the classroom, dig his hands deep into the pockets of his corduroys and stare at something above our heads as he told stories in a sonorous voice,” wrote Middleton.
Middleton was on Gaines’s list of close friends who would
receive regular emails containing his thoughts on the chemotherapy sessions he went through since learning he had pancreatic cancer.
“Many of us who were close to Fred were lucky to receive
emails from him”, said Professor of Theatre Arts and J. Thomas and Julie Esch Hurvis Professor of Theatre Drama Timothy X. Troy. “He used his power as a writer to reflect on the experiences he was going through. His mood was remarkably bright, and there was no manufactured false hope.
He looked for the wisdom to be gained in facing his illness.”
Troy first met Gaines when he was a prospective student applying to Lawrence University. Troy was a senior in high school and saw “The Blue Angel,” a play Gaines directed.
“He was very open to new ideas and different influences,” said Troy, who immediately knew that he wanted to study with Gaines. During the following years, 1981-1985, Troy took classes and tutorials with Gaines.
“He was very theatrically open, but especially interested in
the 1950s. He lived through that period as a young man, and was interested in the social anxieties of that time,” explained Troy, who has also directed some of Gaines’
While Gaines taught at Lawrence, he served as a writing
volunteer at the Oneida Nation Reservation. After retiring in 2000, Gaines began to provide writing workshops for inmates at the Outagamie County Justice Center.
The product of the creative writing classes was “Writers
Inside,” a book collecting the works of inmates and ex-inmates, edited by Gaines and printed by Lawrence University.
“Writing became important to the men and women in my classes. Not because of the ‘lessons’ that I offered them but because of the release that writing creates,” wrote Gaines in the introduction of “Writers Inside.”
“Most actors come from urban areas, and Fred’s family owned a farm. That was very unusual. Fred used to say that growing things was a fundamental human activity, and as a playwright he was as methodical as a serious gardener,”
said Troy, who learned the importance of a slow writing process from Gaines.
“He would start writing using a fountain pen, then type his work. It is not that he was against computers. No, writing is just like a garden, it needs time to grow,” explained Troy, who then displayed his own fountain pen with a smile.
A memorial service for Gaines was held Saturday, April 24 in
Cloak Theatre and left his family, friends and students with fond memories of the actor and writer.