Remembering Nick Garrison

On July 26, 2022, the Seattle theater community lost one of its leading lights, with the passing of beloved actor, singer, director, and writer Nick Garrison. With his magnetic presence, incomparable talent, and expansive heart, Nick left an impact on everyone who he met and worked with. We join his family, friends, and colleagues in remembering and celebrating a truly one-of-a-kind artist and person, whose absence will be felt deeply.   

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Nick Garrison in This (2011). Photo by Chris Bennion.

Nick was born in Kodiak, Alaska, and grew up in Seattle, attending the Northwest School. After graduating high school, he lived and studied for a year in Paris, and after a stint in New York City, returned home to Seattle to make his mark as an artist.  

In a 2008 Seattle Met profile of Nick, Steve Wiecking described him as, “a pocket-size Piaf who could galvanize a room with his outsize charisma and chameleon’s gift to become whatever song he sings.” A talented singer and transformative actor, Nick worked everywhere in Seattle, starring in productions at Intiman, the Empty Space, Re-Bar, the 5th Avenue Theatre, and here at Seattle Rep.   

Seattle Rep Artistic Director Braden Abraham remembers, “For about a decade it seemed Nick was everywhere in Seattle performing in a range of venues and with all kinds of material.He could do anything from musicals, to Shakespeare, to new plays, to concerts, and off-beat hybrid stuff—all of it.  He had that luminous quality plus incredible instincts and ability and added extra wattage to every performance.  His talent inspired directors, and his fellow performers.”  

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Nick Garrison and Chelsey Rives in Boom (2008). Photo by Chris Bennion.

One of the highlights of Nick’s career was portraying the title role in Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell’s rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Nick played the titular genderqueer singer from East Berlin in a 2000 production at Re-Bar in Seattle. It was that rare, alchemical theatrical moment where the skill of a performer meets the demands of a performance. Nick went on to play the role in Chicago and England, later returning to Seattle for a sold out run in 2004.  

At Seattle Rep, Nick appeared in Beard of Avon (2001), Twelfe Night (2007), Boom (2008), Three Tall Women (2010), and This (2011). He is probably best known to Seattle Rep audiences for his portrayal of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning one-person play, I Am My Own Wife. The production was directed by Seattle Rep’s late Artistic Director Jerry Manning and was another example of the magic that can happen when the right actor takes on the right role.  

Seattle Rep Artistic Director Braden Abraham remembers how that perfect match came to be: “I remember he was in a Melissa James Gibson play I was directing in the Leo K. One day during rehearsal, I was upstairs in my office on a break and Jerry Manning and I were trying to figure out one more play to add to the line-up for the next season. I said to Jerry, ‘why don't you direct I Am My Own Wife?’ Jerry's eyes lit up because he loved the play and more importantly, he knew immediately who he wanted to play the role. He grabbed the script off the shelf and walked downstairs to talk to Nick. It was the fastest programming decision and casting offer ever made, and ultimately led to a legendary performance.”  

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Nick Garrison in I Am My Own Wife (2012). Photo by Chris Bennion.

Seattle Rep Associate Artistic Producer Kaytlin McIntyre worked as an assistant director on the production. “It was the first show I worked on as part of my Seattle Rep internship,” Kaytlin remembers. “The play is set in East Berlin during the Nazi and Communist regimes, and a large part of my role was to help Nick learn the German phrases in the script. We spent hours pouring over the pronunciations (I can still recite 'achtzehnhundertfünfundneunzig' from heart). Nick was so open and generous, and during the break he’d say ‘honey, please don’t be shy if you have any notes.’ I only ever gave him pronunciation notes, but I knew he meant notes on anything. He was so gentle and fierce in turns. To watch him perform was like walking on a knife’s edge.”  

During the production of I Am My Own Wife, and in recent years, Nick waged a public battle with addiction. Kaytlin McIntyre remembers:  “Nick was battling many demons during this period of his life, but he was one of those performers that seemed possessed by something greater when he walked onstage. He was luminous. His gift was undeniable. When I think about my first few months in Seattle, I’ll always think of Nick and Jerry. It seems impossible that these two huge spirits are both gone.” 

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Charles Leggett and Nick Garrison in Twelfe Night (2007). Photo by Chris Bennion.

As Stephi Wild wrote in their obituary for Nick on Broadway World, “In the years before his death, [Nick] bravely faced addiction. He flourished in his newfound independence, focused on being a loving uncle to his nieces and nephew, and provided support and care for his mother during her battle with cancer.” And during the pandemic, Nick turned to Facebook and social media, sharing about his life and inspiring others with posts that, as David Schmader wrote in the Seattle Times, “gave all who read them hope and a fresh reason to love him.”  

Nick’s talent and spirit were once-in-a-lifetime, and his passing leaves a hole in the Seattle Rep family and the larger Seattle theater community. We join the community in mourning this loss and celebrating Nick’s transformational life and art.