Stan Foote, a longtime Portland theater personality who played a key role in building Oregon Children’s Theater into a nationally recognized corporation, died Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the age of 69. He had relocated to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico after retiring as artistic director of the OCT in 2019.
Foote had battled cancer for the past year.
Friends, fans and colleagues flooded social media pages with sadness, shock and love on Wednesday. A man of keen theater savvy and a dry, upbeat sense of humor, Foote was known and revered not only as a brilliant director and director, but also as an unforgettable teacher and a good friend to many in and outside the theater world.
In Stan Foote, upstairs, an interview published on May 19, 2019—the day he was in Atlanta to receive the national Harold Oaks Award for Sustained Excellence in Theater for Young Audiences—Foote articulated one of his core approaches to making theater : “Theatre is theatre, says Foote . He challenges the belief that “directing a children’s game is different from directing for adults. It is directing. It has all the same techniques; all the same elements of telling a story to an audience.’”
Foote, whose father was a lumberjack, grew up in the small logging community of Shingletown in Northern California between Redding and Lassen Volcanic National Park. When he was in eighth grade he became addicted to art and a music teacher took him to an orchestra in Redding – “and I don’t even know if it was a good orchestra. But it was incredible for me.” Eventually, he graduated from California State University in Sacramento and moved to Portland in 1978.
Under Foote’s direction and in collaboration with longtime executive director Ross McKeen, the Oregon Children’s Theater developed a reputation as one of the finest youth theaters in the country, commissioning and premiered many significant works. Foote began working for the company in 1991 and became artistic director a decade later.
“During his tenure, he has directed nearly 50 plays and guided OCT through 20 world premieres, including acclaimed collaborations with leading children’s authors such as Lois Lowry (The Giver; gossamer) and Louis Sachar (holes) as well as prominent playwrights and adaptors such as Eric Coble (The storm in the barn; Sacagawea; The Giver)” reported the May 2019 story. “He has commissioned plays with companies across the country, firmly established OCT as a major player nationally, and made a major contribution to the repertoire of plays for young audiences: Coble’s adaptation of Lowrys The Giver had more than 300 productions in the United States and internationally.”
“Foote can come across as much more reserved than many more expressive executives,” the interview also states. “He doesn’t push his profile and he’s not a Ted Talks guy. He can be dryly funny and self-deprecating. But he also exudes a quiet confidence in his abilities, one of which is getting the best work out of others: “I know I’m not the smartest guy in the room. But I know how to get the brightest to give the information we need to get the job done. I think my greatest ability is probably never knowing everything. i like actors I like to ask actors what we should do.’”
Foote’s partner, dynamic actor R. Dee, died in 2014 of early-onset dementia. “We were together for 35 years. We met on a blind date,” recalled Foote, who cared for Dee at their home when his partner’s health declined, in the 2019 interview. “…We were a good couple in that community. You know, we loved each other.” McKeen, Foote’s longtime collaborator at OCT, died of cancer in March 2021.
How far was Foote known and appreciated? On August 29, 2019, Portland officially celebrated him with a dedicated day.
“We don’t know if anyone will give him the key to the city,” the story goes It’s Stan Foote Day reported, “but today is Stan Foote Day in Portland, and if there’s anyone we’d trust with the key, it’s Stan. After a distinguished 28-year career with Oregon Children’s Theater, Foote retires as artistic director and heads south to the sun and sea of Mexico. Mayor Ted Wheeler has announced that Thursday is officially Foote’s Day in Portland (it’s also his birthday: talk about a two-fer). … For a man who has dedicated his career to creating first-class theater for young people, this is an extraordinary, unique retrospective: a kind of standing ovation from an entire city.”
Foote loved his adopted home of Puerto Vallarta, a coastal city he frequented for more than 20 years before finally moving there. In his retirement, he made good friends there, often hanging out with old visiting Portland friends, and even doing a bit of drama in his spare time.
The awards continue to flow in. “When giants fall, the earth trembles,” Portland actor/director Tony Sonera posted on Foote’s Facebook page Thursday. “A giant has fallen and I am shaken. Stan Foote passed.”