But as she enters the third chapter — as she calls it — of her professional life, after 15 years in acting and a quarter-century as a director, she’s resettling in Seattle.
“Time is of the essence for me at this point in my life,” she said. “So I want to get to where I’m getting and be able to enjoy the journey.”
Her hope now is to mentor the next generation of creative minds in the classroom, something she’s now accomplishing at the Seattle Film Institute in Interbay.
“Her background both as an actor who understands [film] from that standpoint, and then also being the director, the one that’s coaxing a good performance out of the students, that’s awesome just in and of itself,” said Chris Blanchett, communications director for the school.
Bearse moved to Western Washington full-time in 2012 and returned to school to obtain her bachelor’s degree at Antioch University. That put her back in the classroom several decades after starting her acting career at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York under the tutelage of Sandy Meisner, in lieu of pursuing a college degree.
That move paid off, as she soon landed her first major role on the soap opera “All My Children” and moved to Los Angeles to continue her pursuit of fame. Soon she would be cast in the horror flick “Fright Night,” alongside Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall, before landing a role for a new sitcom on a fledging chain of TV stations.
“Married … with Children” would air on FOX’s first night of primetime programming.
At the time, Bearse had no idea that the show would have the staying power it ultimately did.
“By virtue of what [FOX] was, we just got to sit for a little while until people found us,” she said. “But then it was year to year in terms of waiting for that pickup. We had no idea it would go 10 years.”
As the show continued, Bearse began shifting her focus from a role in front of the screen to behind it, directing more than 30 episodes before its cancellation.
“Hollywood likes to be comfortable with what they know you to do,” she said. “It’s less that way now, there’s a lot more ease with hyphenate careers, but back then I really wanted to be taken seriously as a director, an episodic television director.”
For the past 20 years, that role took her from sitcoms like “Dharma and Greg” and “Reba,” to sketch comedy shows like “MadTV.” That work also brought her back to New York, as director of “The Big Gay Sketch Show,” on Logo, the first ad-supported commercial channel in the U.S. aimed at the LGBT community.
“It was an opportunity for me to sort of be a part of television history for a second time,” she said.
Eventually, her path brought her to Seattle, and to Antioch to get that long-delayed degree, which she finished up last December. Around that time, a friend told her about the Film Institute, which offers professional certificates, undergraduate degrees, and graduate degrees in all aspects of filmmaking.
“I was like, “What’s that? What are you talking about, I’ve never heard of that,” she said.
Meanwhile, the school didn’t have any teachers that had the same interdisciplinary background that she did, and part of the allure for Bearse was an accelerated graduate degree program.
“It is almost like providential,” Blanchett said. “The table was so set for her to come in, and her particular skillset and background, its really benefitted the school just enormously and instantly.”
Thus far, she said, her experience at the school has been thrilling.
“It’s like opening a big coffee table book and then all of a sudden it turns into something like out of a fairy tale, this giant book with these big pages that I can turn and say, ‘What is this? What is this going to be?’”
With the experience she brings, Blanchett said the students quickly come to appreciate how she handles instruction.
“She runs her set like a professional set,” he said. “The bar is set so instantaneously and the students love it. They just feel like they’re really making a step into the world they want to be in, and it’s very exciting.”
Later this month, she’ll start working with a new group of students, entering their first quarter of a five-quarter filmmaking program. Her hope is to have students understand all the elements of production, much like she came to in Hollywood.
“Hollywood, although it still likes to put these limitations on you, you can just shake that off and really access your own creative flow to be anything and everything,” she said. “You only limit yourself by what you choose to do or not.”
While she cautions that she’s “solar powered,” and has to get away at times during the dark winter months, she’s also come to appreciate what Seattle has to offer.
“I’ve really grown to love it,” she said. “The culture here is very different, but I like what I’ve experienced to be a big city sophistication and culture and mindset and progressive thought without a lot of the pretentiousness and attitude.”
Ultimately, that might keep her in town long-term.
“I’m not looking at this place as a stepping-stone to somewhere else,” she said. “I’m looking to see what can happen here, so I think that keeps me in the neighborhood for a while.”