Costumer, professor and — for two decades — head of the UW School of Drama, Sarah Nash Gates died on Dec. 4, 2015, at age 66.
In 2014, Sarah Nash Gates retired from a distinguished 30-year career teaching at and leading the highly ranked University of Washington School of Drama. Her friends and colleagues say she eagerly looked forward to more time at her family’s cabin in Maine, riding horses and sailing.
She also intended to keep designing costumes for top-flight theaters and cheer on her beloved Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners.
But for Ms. Gates, retirement was short-lived. Last summer, she accepted a part-time post at the UW as the school’s interim divisional dean of the arts. Soon after she fell ill, and on Dec. 4 passed away at her Seattle home from cancer. She was 66.
A sunny, warm and determined woman who tirelessly fostered the talents of a generation of UW drama students, Ms. Gates was raised in Boston. After earning degrees from Boston University and the University of California, and short stints teaching at other schools, she was hired to teach costume history and design at the UW. A decade later, in 1994, she became the School of Drama’s executive director, a position she held until last year.
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In 2010, Ms. Gates boldly and successfully guided her department through a major fiscal crisis, after the UW slashed funds campuswide due to state budget cuts. The school accepted no new graduate acting and design students for a year, other programs were reworked and outside funding was more assertively sought.
“It’s simple. Our current programs were designed with certain resources, and now the resources are smaller,” Ms. Gates told The Seattle Times.
In addition to her academic career, she created costumes for many productions at the 5th Avenue Theatre (including recent productions of “Carousel” and “Oliver!”), ACT Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and other theaters.
“There was such artistry in her bones, and she brought with her grace and kindness and a wonderful sense of humor about anything she dealt with,” says 5th Avenue managing director Bernadine Griffin. “Sarah was a great communicator and a great collaborator.”
Ms. Gates was the first woman (and first costume designer) to serve as president of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. She also served as a board member for Theatre Puget Sound, 5th Avenue Theatre and the University/Resident Theatre Association.
She is survived by her brother Steven Gates (and his wife, Lauren) and her sister Ann Gates O’Toole (and her husband, Thomas), as well as three nephews and a niece. Plans for a memorial service have not been finalized.
Donations in her honor may be made to the Sarah Nash Gates Endowed Graduate Student Support Fund or the Sarah Nash Gates Endowed Production Support Fund at the University of Washington. For information, go artsci.washington.edu/sngates.