G.W. Mercier of Rowayton, Conn.—Skip to his many loving friends, students, and relations—died at home March 11 in the company of his family, of pancreatic cancer. He was born July 20th, 1954 in Methuen, Mass., to George and Margaret Condon Mercier and was raised in Haverhill, Mass. Under the guidance of Professor Henry May he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in Dramatic Art from the University of California at Berkeley, then earned an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, where he was inspired by Dean Lloyd Richards and was named an Oenslager Scholar.
From his graduation in 1983 to his death, Skip designed nearly 400 shows for the stage. As a resident designer for the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn., he collaborated on such seminal works as August Wilson’s Fences. His popular work for children includes Rugrats: A Live Adventure, which toured on three continents, and Finding Nemo: The Musical, which has run five times a day at Walt Disney World since opening in 2007. He earned countless awards and nominations throughout his career, including the Bay Area Critics Award and numerous Drama Desk nominations.
Skip’s first New York production, Lemon Sky, starring Jeff Daniels and Cynthia Nixon, received praise from Frank Rich of The New York Times, who applauded his “scrims, as gauzy with color as a Morris Louis canvas.” On Broadway he designed the sets and costumes for Juan Darién: A Carnival Mass by Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthal, for which he received a Tony nomination for Best Scenic Design. Recent productions included Old Hats by Bill Irwin and David Shiner and Head of Passes by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
On the screen, Skip’s production designs included the ACE Award-winning television series Eureka’s Castle for Nickelodeon, the feature film Southie, and the film Fool’s Fire for PBS’s American Playhouse.
In Seattle, his designs included Romeo and Juliet at ACT Theatre, as well as several productions at Seattle Rep, including The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan (a Steppenwolf Theatre production, co-presented with ACT San Francisco), Well by Lisa Kron, the world premiere of Ibsen in Chicago by David Grimm, Last of the Boys by Steven Dietz, and most recently Shout Sister Shout! by Cheryl L. West.
Skip was a gifted and beloved teacher who influenced a generation of designers, both at the National Theatre Institute, an immersive theatre bootcamp where Skip served as a design instructor for three decades, and at the University of Washington School of Drama, where he joined the faculty in 2015.
Skip originally found his way to theatre through a chance encounter at UC Berkeley with theatre professor Henry May, whose mentorship Skip credited with changing the course of his life. His deep, lifelong commitments to his own students honored the legacy of his mentors, including May, and later Ming Cho Lee and Lloyd Richards at the Yale School of Drama. Skip fiercely believed in the potential of every student, no matter how inexperienced. He thought that each imagination was unique and deserved to be inspired distinctively. Himself a costume, scenic designer, and puppet designer, Skip identified as a scenographer, and was pioneering in his efforts to instill this more holistic approach to design into the U.S. theatre education system.
He wanted his students to be boundless and unconstrained by traditional roles, and he wanted them to engage their instincts and imaginations as much as their technical skills. In 2018 he wrote, “To be effective visual communicators, we must appreciate the inexplicable as well as the learned.” Skip’s students continued to look to him for advice, reassurance, and creative refueling throughout their careers. He had an insatiable hunger for learning, and loved learning from his students and his artistic collaborators.
He is survived by his husband and lifelong partner, Robert Frazier, his daughter Molly and son Wil, his brother Michael, and his grandson Jack Mercier Webb. He also leaves behind a legion of devoted extended family, friends, colleagues, and students. Everyone who came into contact with Skip was swept away by his infectious laugh, marveled at the colors he saw in the world, and will feel his passing keenly.
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