Herbert Blau, 2002
3 May 1926|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||3 May 2013
|Education||B.Ch.E., New York University (Chemical Engineering), 1947
M.A., Stanford University (Drama), 1949
Ph.D., Stanford University (English & American Literature), 1954
|Notable works||The Impossible Theater, a Manifesto (1964) / Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point (1982) / Blooded Thought: Occasions of Theatre (1982) / The Eye of Prey: Subversions of the Postmodern (1987) / The Audience (1990) / To All Appearances: Ideology and Performance (1992) / Nothing in Itself: Complexions of Fashion (1999) / Sails of the Herring Fleet: Essays on Beckett (2000) / The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976-2000 (2002)|
A director and theoretician of performance, Herbert Blau (3 May 1926 – 3 May 2013) was Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities at the University of Washington.
Early life and career
As co-founder (with Jules Irving) of The Actor's Workshop in San Francisco (1952–1965) and co-director of the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center in New York City (1965–67), Blau introduced American audiences to avant-garde drama in some of the country's first productions of Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Harold Pinter including the 1957 performance of Beckett's Waiting for Godot at California's San Quentin State Prison. This was the Godot that during the second red scare, after extra-legal State Department maneuvers denied travel permission for unstated political reasons to a member of the company, represented American theater at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. In 1968, Blau signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.
In 1968, Blau was named founding provost and dean of the School of Theatre and Dance of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) where Blau led the way in designing its educational model. With president Robert W. Corrigan, Blau recruited faculty including artists Allan Kaprow, John Baldessari and Nam June Paik, composers Mel Powell and Morton Subotnick, musician Ravi Shankar, ethnomusicologist Nicholas England, designers Peter de Bretteville and Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, choreographer Bella Lewitzky, director Alexander Mackendrick, film scholar Gene Youngblood, filmmaker Pat O'Neill, and animation artist Jules Engel.
In 1971, after three years at CalArts, Blau formed the experimental group KRAKEN, where he continued presenting challenging productions for another decade. The two books that emerged from that work—Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point (University of Illinois Press, 1982) and Blooded Thought: Occasions of Theater (Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982)—received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. In addition to the theater, Blau has taken up the subjects of literature, visual arts, fashion, postmodern culture and politics.
Blau was born in Brooklyn. He married actress Beatrice Manley in 1949 and they divorced in 1980. They had three children: film professor Dick Blau, Tara Gwyneth Blau, and Dr. Jonathan Blau. Blau married a second time to Kathleen Woodward and they had one daughter, Jessamyn Blau.
Blau died on his 87th birthday May 3, 2013, in Seattle, Washington from a sarcomatoid carcinoma of the chest. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Woodward; three children from his first marriage, Dick Blau, Tara Gwyneth Blau and Jonathan Blau; a daughter from his second marriage, Jessamyn Blau; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
- Blau, Herbert. Programming Theater History: The Actor's Workshop of San Francisco. New York: Routledge, 2013. ISBN 9780415516709 (paperback) ISBN 9780415516693 (hardcover)
- Blau, Herbert. As If: An Autobiography, Volume 1. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011. ISBN 9780472117789 (hardcover) ISBN 9780472035144 (paperback) ISBN 9780472027552 (ebook)
- Blau, Herbert. Reality Principles: From the Absurd to the Virtual. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011. ISBN 9780472051519 (paperback) ISBN 9780472071517 (hardcover) ISBN 9780472027903 (ebook)
- Blau, Herbert. The Dubious Spectacle: Extremities of Theater, 1976-2000. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. ISBN 9780816638130 (paperback) ISBN 9780816638123 (hardcover)
- Blau, Herbert. Sails of the Herring Fleet: Essays on Beckett. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. ISBN 9780472030019 (paperback) ISBN 9780472111497 (hardcover) ISBN 9780472024407 (ebook)
- Blau, Herbert. Nothing in Itself: Complexions of Fashion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. ISBN 9780253213334 (paperback) ISBN 9780253335876 (hardcover)
- Blau, Herbert. To All Appearances: Ideology and Performance. London/New York: Routledge,1992. ISBN 9780415013659 (paperback) ISBN 9780415013642 (hardcover)
- Blau, Herbert. The Audience. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. ISBN 9780801838453 (paperback) ISBN 9780801838446 (hardcover)
- Blau, Herbert. The Eye of Prey: Subversions of the Postmodern. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. ISBN 9780253204394
- Blau, Herbert. Take Up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982. ISBN 9780252009457 (paperback) ISBN 9780252009457 (hardcover)
- Blau, Herbert. Blooded Thought: Occasions of Theater. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1982. ISBN 9780933826397
- Blau, Herbert. The Impossible Theater: A Manifesto. New York: Macmillan, 1964; rpt. Collier, 1965. ISBN 9789990906080
- Internet Broadway Database. Jules Irving. Accessed 19 January 2010.
- The Actor's Workshop. The Oxford Companion to American Theatre. Accessed 27 December 2008.
- Berton, Justin. When 'Waiting for Godot' played San Quentin. San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 2008. Accessed 19 January 2010.
- Atkinson, Brooks, N.Y. Times, "Theatre: 'Godot' for Fair; Coast Troupe Here on Way to Brussels," August 06, 1958
- “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
- California Institute of the Arts: History. Accessed 04 April 2016.
- George Jean Nathan Award Committee's Citation. Accessed 27 December 2008.
- Nelson, Denise. Harry Belafonte, Herbert Blau and Terry Riley Receive Honorary Doctor of Arts Degrees. Accessed 27 December 2008.
- Herbert Blau, As If: An Autobiography, Volume 1 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011), 108.
- Beatrice Manley Biography, accessed 23 October 2012.
- "Herbert Blau, Iconoclastic Theater Director, Dies at 87". NY Times. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
- Entry for Herbert Blau in the Internet Broadway Database
- The documentary film, The Impossible Itself, covers Herbert Blau's 1957 production of Waiting for Godot and San Quentin State Prison.
- Audio of Herbert Blau's lecture "The Right Side of the Tracks, from As If: An Autobiography" at the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities on October 28, 2004.
- The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses the program notes Herbert Blau wrote for productions of The Actor's Workshop of San Francisco and for the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center, 1952-67. Correspondence and other documentary materials are also included in the archives.