Lives They Lived: Theater Community Mourns Loss of ‘Gentle Genius’

The Rochester theater community this week is mourning the loss of Eric Donaldson, a tech wizard and quiet giant of a man who died unexpectedly last Friday.

“Truly, it’s just a terrible loss,” said Jeanne Skattum, a director at the Rochester Repertory Theater. “The whole theater community is in shock.”

Skattum learned of Donaldson’s death after the opening of “Avenue Q” Friday night at the Rep. Donaldson had assisted Skattum with that production, devising the video monitor hookup on which part of the play is projected.

It was typical of Donaldson, friends and colleagues said, to come up with a high-tech solution to a stage problem, and use his own donated equipment to make it work.

“He was generous and gave and gave and gave as much of himself as he could,” said Sue Schnell, who worked closely with Donaldson not only on plays, but also on marketing videos for the Rep. She called him a “gentle genius.”

Donaldson, 57, was born at a Navy hospital in California, but grew up in Dodge Center. He graduated from Dodge Center High School in 1979, and then earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from St. Olaf College. He worked in the energy, software and video fields, but devoted much of his time to Rochester’s various theater companies.

Early on, he made his mark on stage. “The most memorable in my opinion as well as many others, was his performance as Lenny in ‘Of Mice and Men’ at the Civic Theatre in the early 2000s,” said Bill Schnell, a local actor and director.

Donaldson was an early member of Vertigo Theatre and the Theater du Jour sketch comedy troupe. “That’s where be began his reign as community theater technical king,” Schnell said. “Sound, lighting, special effects, video and audio recording, and much of it on equipment he purchased and donated.”

Schnell remembered the time during a Theater du Jour rehearsal at the Civic Theatre when Donaldson started up a fog machine in the lobby. The fog set off smoke alarms and brought the fire department racing to the scene. “He never lived that one down,” Schnell said.

Sue Schnell said Donaldson specialized in Rep and Theater du Jour marketing videos that went way beyond a casual shoot. “Every project became more amazing once he got his hands on it,” she said.

“He helped every theater company in town,” Skattum said. “He was brilliant.”

Donaldson is survived by his mother, Ruth Donaldson, of Dodge Center and two brothers, Mark and Kurt.

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin   March 21, 2019


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