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Robert Brustein

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Robert Sanford Brustein (born April 21, 1927) is an American theatrical critic, producer, playwright, writer and educator. He founded both the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, and the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he remains a creative consultant, and was the theatre critic for The New Republic. He comments on politics for the Huffington Post.

Brustein is a senior research fellow at Harvard University and a distinguished scholar in residence at Suffolk University in Boston. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999 and in 2002 was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. In 2003 he served as a senior fellow with the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University, and in 2004 and 2005 was a senior fellow at the National Endowment for the Arts Arts Journalism Institute in Theatre and Musical Theatre at the University of Southern California.

Brustein was born in New York City. His parents were Max, a businessman, and Blanche (Haft) Brustein. He was educated at The High School of Music & Art, and Amherst College, where he received a BA in 1948 (briefly studying in the medieval history graduate program), the Yale School of Drama for a year studying dramatic literature and criticism, and Columbia University, where he received an MA in 1950 and a PhD in 1957 in dramatic literature and cultural criticism, supervised by Lionel Trilling. During this time, he served in the Merchant Marine on tankers and Victory ships, and later at Kings Point Academy on Long Island. He also held a Fulbright Fellowship to study in the United Kingdom from 1953 to 1955, where he directed plays at the University of Nottingham. After teaching at Cornell University, Vassar College, and Columbia, where he became a full professor of dramatic literature in the English department, he became Dean of the Yale School of Drama in 1966, and served in that position until 1979. It was during this period, in 1966, that he founded the Yale Repertory Theatre.

In 1979, Brustein left Yale for Harvard University, where he founded the American Repertory Theatre (ART) and became a professor of English. At Harvard, he founded the Institute for Advanced Theater Training. He retired from the artistic directorship of ART in 2002 and now serves on the faculty of the institute. He has been a distinguished scholar in residence since 2007 at Suffolk University, where he teaches courses in Shakespeare Analysis. As the artistic director of Yale Rep from 1966 to 1979, and of ART from 1980 to 2002, Brustein supervised over 200 productions, acting in eight and directing twelve.

Brustein was the theatre critic for The New Republic from 1959 to “about 2000”, and contributes to the Huffington Post. He is the author of sixteen books on theatre and society:

Brustein was the writer and narrator of a WNET television series in 1966 called The Opposition Theatre. He also comments on contemporary social and political issues for the Huffington Post.

In 1996 and 1997, Brustein was involved in an extended public debate – through their essays, speeches and personal appearances – with African-American playwright August Wilson about multiculturalism, color-blind casting, and other issues where race impacts on the craft and practice of theatre in America.

As a playwright, Brustein has both authored plays and adapted the material of other authors.

During his tenure at ART, Brustein wrote eleven adaptations, including Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, The Master Builder, and When We Dead Awaken, the last directed by Robert Wilson; Three Farces and a Funeral, adapted from the works and life of Anton Chekhov; Luigi Pirandello’s Enrico IV; and Brustein’s final production at ART, Lysistrata by Aristophanes, directed by Andrei Serban.

Adaptations which he also directed while at ART include a Pirandello trilogy: Six Characters in Search of an Author, which won the Boston Theatre Award for Best Production of 1996, Right You Are (If You Think You Are), and Tonight We Improvise; Ibsen’s Ghosts, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Strindberg’s The Father, and Thomas Middleton’s The Changeling.

Brustein also conceived and adapted the musical Shlemiel the First, based on the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer and set to traditional klezmer music, which was directed and choreographed by David Gordon. After the original presentation in 1994 at ART and in Philadelphia at the American Music Theatre Festival, who co-produced the show, Shlemiel the First was revived several times in Cambridge and subsequently played at the Lincoln Center Serious Fun Festival, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, as well as touring theatres on the east coast of Florida and in Stamford, Connecticut. The play has also been produced at Theater J in Washington, D.C.. A remount of the original David Gordon production was presented by Peak Performances at Montclair State University’s Kasser Theatre in January 2010, and went on to a three-week run at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

Brustein’s new klezmer musical, with composer Hankus Netsky, The King of Second Avenue, an adaptation of Israel Zangwill’s The King of the Schnorrers, was produced at the New Repertory Theatre in 2015.

Brustein’s full-length plays include Demons, Nobody Dies on Friday, The Face Lift, Spring Forward, Fall Back, and his Shakespeare Trilogy The English Channel, Mortal Terror, and “The Last Will.”

Demons, which was broadcast on WGBH radio in 1993, had its stage world premiere as part of the American Repertory Theatre New Stages Season. Nobody Dies on Friday was given its world premiere in the same series and was presented at the Singapore Arts Festival and the Pushkin Theatre in Moscow. It was included in Marisa Smith’s anthology New Playwrights: Best Plays of 1998.

Spring Forward, Fall Back was produced in 2006 at the Vineyard Playhouse on Martha’s Vineyard and at Theater J in Washington. The English Channel was produced at the C. Walsh Theatre of Suffolk University in Boston and at the Vineyard Playhouse in the fall of 2007. In the Fall of 2008, it played at the Abingdon Theatre in New York where it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

His short plays Poker Face, Chekhov on Ice, Divestiture, AnchorBimbo, Noises, Terrorist Skit, Airport Hell, Beachman’s Last Poetry Reading, “Sex For a Change”, and Kosher Kop were all presented by the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and form a play called “Seven/Elevens.

Brustein is also the author of Doctor Hippocrates is Out: Please Leave a Message an anthology of theatrical and cinematic satire on medicine and physicians, commissioned by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement for its 2008 convention in Nashville. Brustein’s musical satire, Exposed, was performed in 2014 at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse.

Brustein has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including:

In addition, Brustein received the Pirandello Medal, and a medal from the Egyptian government for contributions to world theatre. His papers are housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

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