Sarah Bryant-Bertail

            July 9, 1943 – April 13, 2021

 

image of Sara Bryant Bertail

Sarah Ann Bryant-Bertail

Sarah Ann Bryant-Bertail was at her most brilliant when she was coaxing someone to clarify his or her own thoughts, and to in turn strengthen his or her voice. She helped people to see themselves as they really were. As a professor, she helped hundreds of students to find their voices. When she reviewed papers as a professor of drama, she would circle the places in the text where the student had written the most interesting thought. Next to the circled text she would include an inspiring command, such as “Make this clearer! This is the main idea… Put this first.” Hers was always good advice, but if you were hoping for an editor who would make it easy on you and tell you which words to use, she wasn’t it. Her commands were intended to make you reflect and usually required some work. She was a wonderful teacher because of her sharp intellect and creativity combined with a warm and nurturing teaching style.

She was also very intuitive with a great sense of humor, which made her a phenomenal mother, & friend. She could always sense when something was not quite right and would ask probing—but not intrusive— questions until she figured out how best to help. She will be deeply missed, as she touched the lives of many. She is survived by her husband Georges, daughter Jessica, son-in-law Clint, three grandchildren (Evan Lee, Annika Claire and Hailey Sarah), and all seven of her siblings.

Sarah (at right) with her sister Katie

Sarah (nee Sarah Bryant) was born in Atlanta, Georgia and was raised in Georgia, Arkansas, North Dakota and Minnesota. She was the oldest of eight children born to her father, Dr. Emmett Phillip Bryant, General Practitioner. With his first wife, Lucille (nee Lucille Teeter) Dr. Bryant had four children, starting with Sarah, followed by her sister Katie (born 1946), sister Phyllis (born 1948) and brother John (born 1955). Sarah described summers in her childhood filled with swimming, doing ‘daredevil stunts,’ (like lowering herself into a well that one time) and fun times spent with her siblings. With Katie and Phyllis, Sarah and her sisters played a lot of make believe, such as pretending that there were fairies living in a large tree in their grandmother Teeter’s yard. She spent some of her childhood in El Dorado, AR. where her father had been raised. She and her siblings stayed with their maternal grandmother “Quince”—who had a major influence on Sarah’s life— and their three aunts. When Sarah was a teenager, her father remarried Carol Bryant (nee Carol Anderson) and they had four children. Sarah’s half-siblings Kelly, Gail, Barb and Steve were born in 1960, 1961, 1964 and 1969, respectively.

Sarah was an intelligent, creative, and hard-working student. After graduating from high school in Chisholm, MN in 1961, she attended college at the University of Minnesota and at Bemidgi State, MN, earning a Bachelor’s degree from the latter in 1965. As an undergraduate, she developed a strong interest in the theatre, acting in several plays. Her love of theatre—and especially interpreting theatre—would continue as a lifelong interest. She developed other interests in her young adulthood that influenced her life, including a passion for protecting animals and the environment and a strong interest in international affairs. After graduating with her BA, Sarah started her career in 1965 by teaching middle school, which she taught first in Duluth, MN, then in Hutchinson, MN, then in Biloxi, MS. and finally in Germany.

In Flensburg, Germany, Sarah met Georges Bertail, a French native, in 1971.  He was a student at the Berlitz school taking English courses, where she was his teacher. For eight years, Sarah and Georges lived together in Flensburg during which time they mostly spoke in German but learned each other’s languages (English and French). They got married in 1976. In 1977, Sarah returned to her native U.S. with Georges and they settled in Minneapolis, where her sisters Katie and Phyllis lived along with their spouses and families.  Sarah and Georges’ daughter Jessica was born in 1979.

Shortly after arriving back in the U.S., Sarah started graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, where she earned a PhD in Comparative Literature with an emphasis on modern European theater and critical theory. While working towards her PhD, she received a Fulbright fellowship to attend the University of Paris at the Sorbonne, where she studied for the 1984-1985 academic year.  Earlier, she had also studied at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

In 1986, Sarah got her first professor position at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where she taught drama. In 1990, she accepted a position as a professor at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, WA. At the UW School of Drama, Sarah was an Associate Professor of theory and criticism until 2011 and, for much of that time, also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Scandinavian Studies. For the 1999 school year, she taught at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Throughout her career, Sarah made many meaningful contributions to her field. She published many essays.  Her essays on European and American theater performance, semiotics, feminism, and intercultural theater appear in Theatre JournalTheatre Research InternationalJournal of Dramatic Theory and CriticismAssaphTheatre Studies, Journal of Kafka Studies and in the anthologies Brecht YearbookStrindberg’s DramaturgyIn Collaboration: le Theatre du Soleil: A SourcebookThe Performance of PowerThe Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English, Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance, Essays on 20th-Century German Drama, and Perspectives on Teaching Theatre.  She published one book, Space and Time in Epic Theatre: The Brechtian Legacy, in 2000.

In her own words, though, what Sarah liked most about teaching was advising students. She felt most fulfilled is when she was helping students to find and clarify their own voices. For example, she enjoyed advising doctoral candidates. Over the 2o years she taught at UW, she usually advised at least one doctoral student per year and in some years advised many more. Her strong ability to keep up with domestic and international affairs also helped make her an adaptive professor. She kept the basics of her courses consistent while also incorporating content to reflect developments, such as race issues in the 1990s in the U.S. and the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s.

Sarah and Georges at Jessica and Clint’s wedding, August 27, 2011.

Outside of teaching, Sarah loved the Pacific Northwest, and enjoyed gardening and taking care of her cats Bisoux, Minette, Jojo and Tina. She also loved attending aerobics classes, especially Jazzercize, which she attended for over 20 years in Shoreline, WA. and where she made several good friends.

Unfortunately, the last years of Sarah’s life were difficult for her and those closest to her. She was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2013, and was later diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia. Dementia is cruel for so very many reasons, but especially because it does not give those left behind a real chance to say goodbye.

However, Sarah would not wish for us to dwell and focus on her last years, so let us not. Let’s instead remember her at her most brilliant, & beautiful. Let’s remember her hysterical laughter when she was joking and reminiscing with us; her kind words telling us to focus on the positive aspects of ourselves instead of whatever negative thing we were facing in that moment, which was just what we needed to hear then. Let’s remember her in those many, many times when her spirit and light danced.

 

Goodbye, sweet Sarah:

 

 

Goodbye, sweet Mama. I love you always, the best “role model” mama that I could ever wish for. I’m so grateful that I had the chance to know and love you—with all of your intelligence. I’ll never forget you sometimes acting like a court jester to life our spirits or to bring humor to awkward situations.

Although you were generally warm, motherly and nonconfrontational, you became Bad Ass Mama when you felt you needed to – standing up for me fiercely when someone was mistreating me—like a terrible teacher or a kid bully. You always stood up for others too, when someone gave an opinion or made a joke that was racist, sexist, or disrespectful.

How I wish you were here. What a wonderful time you would have had with my and Clint’s babies, your 3 grandchildren. You always brought fun to wherever you were. I just hope that I can reflect your wonderful traits. You set the bar very high for being a loving mother. I love you forever and shall endeavor to be the kind of Mama that you would approve.  

Love always, Jessica 

 

To my dearest friend, my beloved sister,

Even though you are gone from this earthly life, you are forever young in my memory of our childhood, teenage years and the thousands of hours since those times spent talking, laughing, sometimes crying and always loving each other. I surely wouldn’t be me without you by my side for 75 years. You will remain in my heart forever.
Goodbye for now sweet sister.

All my love as always into eternity.
Your little sister, Katie

 

Goodbye sweet Aunt Sarah. I will miss your beautiful smile, contagious laugh, inspiring talks & loving embraces. You were more than an Aunt, more like a second Mom,  from the time we spent living in Germany to our summers at the cabin & trips to visit you in Ireland & Seattle.

I aspire to be a woman like you & my Mom, with strength, wisdom, integrity & strong values, yet with a deep compassion for all beings, resilient to life’s ups & downs, always keeping a sense of humor. Until we meet again, for a long walk in nature’s beauty, sipping iced Lattes with lots of laughter!

Love, Michelle

 

Ceremony to Celebrate Sarah in Summer 2022

We want to give Sarah the farewell that she deserves. We will hold a ceremony to commemorate her life next summer (sometime from June – August 2022) at a venue in Seattle. We’re still working out the details. If you are interested in attending Sarah’s memorial, please send an email with your mailing address to jessbry5443<at>gmail.com. (substitute @ in appropriate location)

For those who want to submit a short eulogy about Sarah, please email us those. These will be  displayed as part of the ceremony. Up to 250 words about Sarah.  Thanks in advance.

For those of you who have contacted my dad or I to express your sympathy, thank you so much for your kind words.

 

 

4 Responses to “Sarah Bryant-Bertail”

  • Joe Teeter says:

    Dear Family,

    These were beautiful and loving words about this wonderful woman, Sarah. I wish i could have grown up closer to her. We are so proud of your wonderful family.
    Love you all.

    Joe Teeter, son of Charles and Neva Teeter

    Sarah

  • Susan Russell says:

    My eyes fill with tears as I read these beautiful tributes to my joyful and inspiring mentor. Sarah came to the University of Washington to replace Sue Ellen Case, whom I’d moved cross country to study with. So, for me, the stakes were high. I didn’t want to leave Seattle or finish my degree in an English department (which was where Sue Ellen was going). So I waited to see who my new mentor would be. Sarah was all I could hope for and more: a brilliant scholar, encouraging coach, nurturing and inspiring teacher and dear friend. She continued to support me in my academic career and aspirations, even writing letters of recommendation for me for at least ten years!! We had a special bond because I come from Arkansas and also specialize in German theatre (though Sarah’s expertise shone in so many different cultures’ theatre, not just German!). I especially remember when a few of her grad students reunited with her at a conference in Florida—we had so much fun and I have some pictures of Sarah in the hotel (where we all spent a lot of time laughing!). She also stood up for me, guided me and comforted me in various tough situations, like a second mom. I am so very grateful to have been her first doctoral student at the University of Washington. She was (and is!) such a blessing in my life! My heart goes out to her family and friends. God bless you!

  • Katie Johnson says:

    I came to Seattle to study with Sarah. We shared interests in feminist theory and German theatre, spoke German fluently, and loved cinema. How could she not be my dissertation director?

    From the minute I met Sarah in my first graduate seminar, I was blown away by her intellectual acumen, her breadth of knowledge, and her persistent challenges to deepen my engagement with my work. Sarah walked into that classroom with a stack of books in her arms, piled high–seemingly precarious in her petite arms. We would be reading those books—and more—that semester. She put together a monumentally thick course packet for our seminars, which were comprised of theoretical readings, historical contexts, and cutting-edge research. When she spoke, her intensity was accompanied by her soft voice, piercing blue eyes, and dynamite laugh. Those of us who studied with her realized her unique ability to lecture through wide swaths of history and theory without notes, matching the skill of Scheherazade.

    Sarah was not only a feminist in the classroom, but also in the real world, and this shaped me as a critic and activist. She was a role model for me as an educator, thinker, and human being. I still hear her voice at times when I write to suggest a change of phrase, or a clarification. I hope to continue to honor her memory with my teaching and writing. Sarah, you will be missed, aber nie vergessen.

    Katie Johnson

  • Wade says:

    This is such a moving tribute to an amazing woman. I am so sorry the world has lost such a soul that has enriched so many. Thank you for giving me a better glimpse into her story. This is a well penned and beautiful tribute. Sending my love.

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