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Friday, August 7, 2020

Pierce College “Incorruptible” actor, life-long Shakespeare enthusiast dies suddenly

We often become so distracted by the stresses in our daily lives that it’s easy to forget to take the time and appreciate the positive things that we encounter, that we feel passionately about and that make each day a joy.

Dana Craig, 68, was able to make his passion of acting into a life-long career and shared that passion with others by spreading his knowledge and experience to those he met.

Dana was cast in the Pierce College Theater’s Spring production of “Incorruptible” which was to be his 200 stage performance.

One week before “Incorruptible” had its opening night, Bettyann Craig had gone to bed while Dana had fallen asleep watching TV in the guest room.

“Usually he and I would have different schedules because he would get off of a play and it’s like getting off work, you need time to unwind, so I’d see him at night but then I’d go to bed and he’d still be up winding down,” Bettyann said.  “So he had been watching TV in the guest room and he fell asleep in there which wasn’t uncommon and I guess he had the heart attack in the middle of the night. I didn’t hear anything cause I was asleep already.”

He was scheduled to attend a Q and A session for an ENCORE class at Pierce with some members of the cast and crew of “Incorruptible” the next morning.

Despite the tragedy, Bettyann had thought of Valorie Grear and the cast almost immediately.

“It was really hard for Valorie because she had to find somebody. Valorie has been tremendously supportive about everything, in fact she was my third phone call cause I know how important it is,” Bettyann said. “She worked really hard on the play and I know everyone else did and Dana would have hated not being able to be there for them. He was very conscientious.”

Eric White was one of the cast members attending the session for the class that morning.

“I was on campus to do a Q and A for an ENCORE class with our stage manager Lyndsay, and our director and Dana, and our stage manager told me that he passed and it was just absolutely surreal, I could not believe it at all,” Eric said.

He said the possibility of cancelling the show had been only briefly considered but ultimately they felt a responsibility to continue.

“I think we all felt that it would be dishonoring him if we didn’t continue and I think us continuing fueled us to make the show even better,” Eric said.

Dana is remembered by those who knew him at Pierce as a warm and insightful part of their lives.

“Students were fascinated, he was very knowledgeable and he was knowledgeable about everything,” Valorie said. “And I learned from him. I was the professor of theaterre, and the instructor and the director but I would always learned interesting new things from Dana and I think everyone who knew him felt that way.”

The general sense is not one of mourning a death but of celebrating a life. Bettyann speaks of her husband lovingly and smiles at his memory.

To those who knew him, Dana was an influential and passionate actor willing to share his experience with anyone.

A second-generation Angelino, he had been performing in theater since he was a kid. Dana attended Santa Barbara City College before transferring to University of California, Santa Barbara and majoring in theater. It was there he met his wife of 46 years, Bettyann, in an acting class.

“I think in his first play, he played Sitting Bull in ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’” Bettyann said. “I think he was 9 years old.”

Over the span of his career, Dana had acted on television for a number of shows including “Murphy Brown,” “L.A. Law,” “Growing Pains” and “Highway to Heaven.” He also had roles in the film “Chaplin” and many productions for the stage including the role of Herr Zeller in “The Sound of Music” with Florence Henderson.

Shakespeare was a large part of Dana’s life; both for work and for his own enjoyment. Books of novels, scripts and plays fill shelves in his home office and he worked on productions of Shakespeare for companies in Utah and Las Vegas.

Aside from acting, Dana’s life was devoted to his family. Being an actor, his work schedule was not typical and this allowed him to be involved with his son, Dana Craig Jr., during his childhood.

“He spent a lot of time with our son when he was younger,” Bettyann said. “I was doing the nine to five job and he would do soccer, t-ball, little league and all those things because his schedule was so irregular and usually he could take time off where a lot of the dads couldn’t.”

Dana took the time to travel throughout his life and for their 25th anniversary Dana and Bettyann renewed their vows in the Vatican. Over the years, they also visited Spain, France, Germany, England and spent last year’s anniversary in Ireland.

“We spent our anniversary in a castle. He rented a room for two days in Cabre Castle,” Bettyann said. “We had the honeymoon suite, which was pretty cool. It was all done in red velvet and it had windows that overlooked the grounds.”

Dana’s passion for acting went beyond performing. Teaching and mentoring was something he felt strongly about.  Valorie, the Pierce College professor of theater and director of “Incorruptible,” first met Dana when he auditioned for the 2011 spring production of “Born Yesterday” and recalls his warm nature and “how generous he was.”

“He had no ego about acting, he was there because he loved the play, he loved being on stage,” Valorie said. “But I think even more than all that, I think he really enjoyed working with younger actors.”

One of Dana’s co-stars of “Incorruptible,” Eric remembers how Dana’s presence could fill a room.

“He was one of those people that the minute he walked into the room the mood just changed,” Eric said. “He was very engaging.”

Dana often did research for his own fulfillment but also to enhance his understanding of the productions he was involved with.

“We did a lot of table reads for the play and there was always a lot of research to be done about the Middle Ages, about the monastic life and what it would be like to be a part of that culture and that part of history,” Valorie said. “He would bring in all kinds of wonderful visual pictures and resources. He loved to talk about historical eras and the kind of everyday life that a character from that period in time would lead.”

His exploration of the average life of people in history was developed into a one-man show depicting a Shakespearian peasant that Dana would take to elementary schools.

“So many of the different plays dwell on the kings and queens and their issues and he wanted to show the students what a peasant’s life was,” Bettyann said. “He had props. He had an empty Big Mac container and he would tell the kids ‘this is all the meat that a peasant would have in a year,’ and he had a jar with three pennies in it and he would shake the jar and say ‘this is how much the father of the household would earn in a year,’ and the kids of course were a bit surprised because it’s kind of hard to ask for allowance when there’s three pennies in there.”

Dana Craig is survived by his wife Bettyann Craig and son Dana Craig Jr.

“He was very romantic. After 46 years we still held hands,” Bettyann said. “It was fun, we had a lot of good things together, we saw plays together, we traveled together. We’re of a generation that believes in celebrating the life. He had a good life, I miss him.”

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