Michael Kirby (theater)

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Michael Kirby (1931–1997) was a professor of drama at New York University. He wrote several groundbreaking books, including Happenings, Futurist Performance and The Art of Time. He was editor of The Drama Review from 1969 to 1986.

Although he taught at NYU simultaneously with Richard Schechner and shared an interest in avant-garde performance, he disagreed with Schechner about what should appear in TDR and about the value of the field that was emerging at the time, performance studies. Kirby believed theatrical events should be documented, not criticized or analyzed using the tools of social sciences.

Besides his acting with the Wooster Group and in productions of his Structuralist Workshop, he was a lead actor in the film The Golden Boat. Kirby also had small roles in two films directed by Woody Allen.

He studied at Princeton, Boston University, and New York University.


Kirby was born in California, with an identical twin who later collaborated with him on some of his writings. He died of leukemia.


  • Cambridge Guide to American Theater Edited by Wilmeth, Don B. and Miller, Tice L. Cambridge University Press, 1993 (Short biography up to 1992 included.)
  • Napoleon, Davi. Transcending Substance in TheaterWeek November 20, 1995.(Kirby is quoted on the subject of performance studies.)