Herbert Blau

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Herbert Blau
Herbert Blau
Herbert Blau, 2002
Born(1926-05-03)3 May 1926
Brooklyn, New York
Died3 May 2013(2013-05-03) (aged 87)
Seattle, Washington
EducationB.Ch.E., New York University (Chemical Engineering), 1947
M.A., Stanford University (Drama), 1949
Ph.D., Stanford University (English & American Literature), 1954
Notable worksThe 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)

Herbert Blau (May 3, 1926 – May 3, 2013) was an American director and theoretician of performance. He was named the Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities at the University of Washington.

Early life and career[edit]

Blau earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from New York University (1947). Later, he earned his master of arts in drama (1949) and doctorate in English and American literature (1954), both from Stanford University.

As co-founder (with Jules Irving)[1] of The Actor's Workshop[2] 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.[3] This was the Godot that during the second red scare, after extralegal 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.[4]

In 1968, Blau signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[5]

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 he 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.[6]

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.[7] In addition to the theater, Blau has taken up the subjects of literature, visual arts, fashion, postmodern culture, and politics.[citation needed]

CalArts conferred an honorary doctor of arts degree to Blau in May 2008.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Blau was born in Brooklyn. He married actress Beatrice Manley in 1949[9] and they divorced in 1980.[10] 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.[11]


Blau died on his 87th birthday, May 3, 2013, in Seattle, Washington from cancer. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Woodward, three children from his first marriage, a daughter from his second marriage, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.[12]


  • 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


  1. ^ Jules Irving profile, ibdb.com; accessed January 19, 2010.
  2. ^ The Actor's Workshop, The Oxford Companion to American Theatre; accessed December 27, 2008.
  3. ^ Berton, Justin. "When 'Waiting for Godot' played San Quentin", San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 2008; accessed January 19, 2010.
  4. ^ Atkinson, Brooks, "Theatre: 'Godot' for Fair; Coast Troupe Here on Way to Brussels", New York Times, August 6, 1958.
  5. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest", New York Post, January 30, 1968.
  6. ^ California Institute of the Arts: History; accessed April 4, 2016.
  7. ^ George Jean Nathan Award Committee's Citation, cornell.edu; accessed December 27, 2008.
  8. ^ Nelson, Denise. Harry Belafonte, Herbert Blau and Terry Riley Receive Honorary Doctor of Arts Degrees Archived 2008-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, calarts.edu; accessed December 27, 2008.
  9. ^ Herbert Blau, As If: An Autobiography, Volume 1 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011), 108.
  10. ^ Beatrice Manley biography, beatricemanley.com; accessed October 23, 2012.
  11. ^ "Herbert Blau, Iconoclastic Theater Director, Dies at 87". Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  12. ^ "Herbert Blau, Iconoclastic Theater Director, Dies at 87". NY Times. Retrieved May 8, 2013.

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