|George Charles Izenour|
July 24, 1912|
New Brighton, Pennsylvania
|Died||March 24, 2007
George Charles Izenour (pronounced I-zen-our), MPhys, AIEEE (July 24, 1912 – March 24, 2007) was an author, educator, designer and leading innovator in the field of theatrical design and technology. Best known for creating one of the first electronic theatre lighting dimming system, over the course of his career he invented and developed multiple technologies at the core of modern theatrical productions.
Early life and education
Born in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, before moving to Ambridge in 1917. In 1918 Izenour's father moved the family to Mansfield, Ohio. Because of a condition known as keratoconus, a non-spherical deformation of the cornea of the eye, George's early education was augmented by his parents at home. His mother taught him English and Latin and his father history and mathematics. George did not begin his formal schooling until the age of six in Mansfield.
While still living in Mansfield, he appeared in all of the Mansfield Senior High School plays. He painted the scenery for them and became increasingly interested in the technical aspects of theatre.
Izenour attended Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio, where he eventually obtained a master's degree in physics. His thesis was the embodiment of what would later become the first electronic theatre lighting dimming system.
George married Hildegard Hilt, a classmate from Wittenberg, after graduation and moved to California.
Shortly after moving to California, George met Hallie Flanagan, the national director of the Federal Theatre Project. Eventually, he became the lighting director of the project. While in California, Izenour designed the theatre at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1939.
Izenour was made a Fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation on July 10, 1939, 10 days after the House Un-American Activities Committee declared all of the members of the Federal Theater Communists, effectively closing the Federal Theater. With his Rockefeller grant, George Izenour gained a position at Yale University, with the mandate to establish a laboratory dedicated to the advancement of theatre technology.
During World War II, Dr. Izenour worked on antisubmarine warfare and countermeasures for proximity fuses at a government lab in Long Island, New York. His son Steven Izenour, a world renowned architect and artist, was born in New Haven in July 1940.
After the war he returned to Yale where he developed the Electro-Mechanical Laboratory in an abandoned squash court at the Yale School of Drama Annex under the general direction of Stanley McCandless. He built and installed several dimming systems out of the squash court. Century Lighting became interested in the system, however Izenour refused to sell the patents he had acquired. Century took a license to produce the dimming systems that would be known as the Century-Izenour System.
Prior to the development of Izenour's control system, adjusting theatrical lighting was done though bulky control panels located on-stage. For large, complex productions several people would generally be required to operate these control panels. The Century-Izenour control system allowed a single operator, located in the house to control all of the stage lighting remotely.
George Izenour's first theatre consultation began with being contacted by McGeorge Bundy, then Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Bundy was building a new theatre, that would eventually become the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass., based on a program from Archibald MacLeish. Mr. MacLeish wanted the theatre to convert from proscenium to thrust because these were, according to Mr. MacLeish, the two great forms of theatre which had to do with western culture. Izenour designed a theater that could be converted from one stage type to the other by a process, part manual and part electronic, that took about 15 minutes. This convertible design was celebrated in architectural world and became known as an Izenour theatre. Today Izenour theatres exist across the United States, as well as in Canada, Venezuela and Israel. There are no Izenour theatres, however, on Broadway. “Broadway is not for me,” he said in a 1959 interview with The New York Times. “I am a radical to those real estate operators.” Izenour used the celebrity from this project to launch George C. Izenour Associates as a theatre design and acoustical consulting firm.
Through his consultancy firm, George Izenour ended up advising such prestigious clients as the Metropolitan Opera Company and the Juilliard School of Music on technical matters, as well as helping to design more than 100 theatres across the country.
“George really was the father of modern theatre consulting and design,” remembers Steve Pollock. “Some of his initial project work, such as the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois, relied on a number of individual spaces to satisfy a broad menu, whether it be a great hall, an amphitheatre, a studio theatre, and so on. Over time, George began to roll a lot of these functions into what was referred to as the multi-use theatre, and that’s really George’s invention, wherein technology was used to vary acoustics, move ceilings, to do all of these things with moving architecture, changing the physicality of the space itself.”
—Yale School of Drama Allumni Magazine, 2010–11
Izenour retired from Yale from his positions as professor emeritus of theatre design and technology and director emeritus of the electro-mechanical laboratory of the Yale University School of Drama in 1977 and continued his consulting business in an old converted oyster shack next to his home overlooking the Thimble Islands at Stony Creek, Connecticut. The house George and his wife Hildegard shared was designed by his son, Steven Izenour, and won national recognition by the American Institute of Architects and international acclaim in a show at the Pompidou Center in Paris. The living room was lead lined to be acoustically separate from the rest of the house and was designed in section to emulate the plan acoustics of Carnegie Hall. During construction, he fired off a starter's pistol every day in the living room to record the reverberation and adjust the baffles. A concert recording of the 1812 Overture at concert volume was a favorite to play for visitors. The living room also was a favorite recording studio for the Juilliard String Quartet Izenour lived there until his wife's death in 2002.
From 2002 until his death, Izenour was a resident at Cathedral Village in Philadelphia, where he continued to work on theatre design projects.
Some of his many contributions to theatre technology include: Patent #2,942,879 Scenery Handling Apparatus a patent for a remotely operated motor controlled fly system. This patent is the precursor to all modern computer controlled scenery systems. Patent #2,463,463 Lighting Control Circuits, perhaps Izenour's best known invention, is a patent for a compact remote operation system for theatrical and television lighting dimming systems. This patent is the basis for all modern lighting control consoles. Izenour also developed such varied technologies as articulated acoustical sub-structures and assorted analogue and digital control systems.
George Izenour also developed the inverse polarized rectifier circuit for dimming and switching for stage lighting, the first of its kind. The invention, using thyratrons, significantly reduced the size of dimming systems used in theatres.
He wrote technical articles for many professional journals, wrote the section on theatre design for the 1974 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, and contributed to the McGraw Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction.
George Izenour is the author of three books:
- Theater Design,Yale University Press, 1977, revised 1997 ISBN 978-0-300-06775-0
- Theater Technology Yale University Press, 1988, revised 1997 ISBN 978-0-300-06766-8
- Roofed Theaters of Classical Antiquity Yale University Press, 1992, ISBN 978-0-300-04685-4
Izenour held fellowships in the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He was appointed a Benjamin Franklin Fellow of the Royal Society, and was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Acoustical Society of America, and the National Council of Acoustical Consultants.
Izenour shared the Rodgers and Hammerstein Prize in 1960. He received the USITT Award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology in 1975, The George Freely Award from the Theatre Library Association in 1977, and the Distinguished Service Award from the American Theatre Association in 1978.
In 2004, Izenour was presented with the Wally Russell Lifetime Achievement Award. The "Wally" Award was established in 1992 in memory of Wally Russell. Each year, the "Wally" honors one individual who exhibits a strong sense of leadership, a commitment to technological innovation, and a career of service to the lighting industry.
- George C. Izenour Dies at 94. Lighting&Sound America Online. 27 March 2007. Retrieved on 2011-08-23.
- In Memoriam: George Izenour. Usitt.org. Retrieved on 2011-08-23.
- George Izenour, 94, Designer of Technologies for Theaters, Dies. New York Times. March 30, 2007.
- Annual Magazine of Yale School of Drama 2010–2011
- Steven Izenour, 61, Architect of American Pop, Dies New York Times. August 26, 2001.
- A Sound Design Sun-Sentinel. January 25, 1991.
- G. C. Izenour et al. "Scenery handling apparatus" U.S. Patent 2,942,879 Issue date: June 28, 1960
- G. C. Izenour "Lighting control circuits" U.S. Patent 2,463,463 Issue date: March 1, 1949
- G. C. Izenour "Filtered Thyratron Control" U.S. Patent 2,548,887 Issue date: April 17, 1951
- Guide to the George C. Izenour WPA Projection Slides Charcoal Drawings, 1932–1938. Libraries.psu.edu. Retrieved on 2011-08-23.
- HARRIS2006 Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Scribd.com (2010-01-15). Retrieved on 2011-08-23.
- RF Annual Report. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2011-08-23.
- John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Gf.org. Retrieved on 2011-08-23.
- George C. Izenour Winner of 2004 Wally Russell Award. Livedesignonline.com (2004-09-01). Retrieved on 2011-08-23.