Robert Stevens (theater director)

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Robert Stevens (1882–1963) was an American theater actor, director and producer in New York City and Rochester, NY in the first half of the Twentieth Century. He was the first Executive Director of the Rochester Community Players, one of the earliest theater professionals to manage an amateur community theater, serving there for 28 years and guiding that Little Theater through the Great Depression and World War II.

Family and background[edit]

Born in New York City on January 28, 1882,[1] he was the son of Robert E. Stevens (born c. 1837 in Philadelphia PA), a theatrical manager.[2][3] His father had joined the United States Navy just before the Civil War, rising to the rank of Lieutenant.[4] According to the New York Times, Robert E. Stevens "took out the first traveling theatrical company" from New York City.[4] He also managed actor Lawrence Barrett for many years.[5]

His mother, Emma Maddern, was an actress, as was his sister, Emily Stevens.[6] He is the cousin of Mrs. Fiske, one of the greatest American actresses of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.[6][7] Mrs. Fisk herself, while appearing in Rochester in the late 1920s in an Ibsen play, visited the Rochester Community Players Playhouse, in the company of Stevens, and again was described as his cousin in a newspaper report of the visit.[8] According to a New York Times interview with his sister, Emily Stevens, their mother, Emma Maddern, was a sister of Mrs. Fiske's mother, Elizabeth Madden, and also a sister of Mary Madden, who played with Mrs. Fiske for many years.[9] Stevens performed as an actor in a number of Mrs. Fiske's productions.[5]

His first job after school, at age 18, was as a bank clerk,[6][10] but he left to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.[6] He had performed a minor walk-on part in a Shakespeare play performed by E. H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe when he landed his first major role, as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.[6] He was hired by the play's director, Cecil B. DeMille to take over for an actor who departed a road company production in Sioux City, Iowa.[6]

He appeared in the cast of The Bat, during the play's three year run on Broadway,[6] He directed the play and took his own company on the road to present it.[5] He performed in numerous theatrical productions, co-starring with Margaret Anglin, Holbrook Blinn, and Lou Tellegen.[5]

Stevens appeared with the Ben Greet Players in Shakespeare productions for three years.[6] He also worked in the motion pictures industry, as an assistant director for actress Alla Nazimova at Metro Films (one of the predecessors of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).[6]

On August 12, 1911, he married Ada Walsh Stevens (born c. 1887 in Utica, NY) in New York City.[1][11] His first wife died in 1945 and he married a second time, to Constance B. Stevens, in June 1951.[12][13]

Community theater director[edit]

In the Fall of 1925, Stevens was hired, to direct the newly created Rochester Community Players (RCP), a community theater that had only started operations seven months earlier,.[14] Engaged for three weeks, he stayed 28 years, with memberships (season subscriptions for two tickets per show) grew from 300 to 5,000 by the late 1940s.[6][15] He directed over 200 productions with RCP, keeping the organization solvent and operating with full programming through the financial difficulties of the Great Depression and the limitations on materials and unavailability of actors during World War II. RCP purchased its own facility, the Playhouse, at Meigs Street and Clinton Avenue in Rochester a year after he was hired in 1925.[16]


Stevens retired from RCP at the conclusion of the final production of the 1952-53 season, Arsenic and Old Lace.[17] He retired to Florida and died at Lauderdale-by-the Sea December 19, 1963.[18]


  1. ^ a b Passport application of Robert Stevens, April 1924
  2. ^ 1900 and 1910United States Census information
  3. ^ New York Times, "The Early Perils of Minnie Madden", July 2, 1916
  4. ^ a b Obituary; Robert E. Stevens, New York Times, July 23, 1918
  5. ^ a b c d "Stevens Aids Drive for New Players"; newspaper clipping from October 1926, in the 1924-1927 Scrapbook of the Rochester Community Players, stored in the Local History Depart, Rundel Library of the Rochester NY Public Library
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Rochester Times Union newspaper, April 18, 1953, pg. 4, Editorial Page, article by Elmer R. Messner (archived in the 1946-1952 Scrapbook, Rochester Community Players collections, Local History Department, Rochester NY Public Library, Rundel Building|[1]
  7. ^ Newspaper article, c. Sept, 1928; archived in the 1928-1930 Scrapbook, and Newspaper article, c. Sept. 1931, archived in the 1931-1932 Scrapbook, both found in the Rochester Community Players collections, Local History Department, Rochester NY Public Library, Rundel Building|[2]
  8. ^ Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper article, "Mrs. Fiske Likes Atmosphere of Community Players", unknown date, archived in the 1924-1927 Scrapbook, archived in the Rochester Community Players collections, Local History Department, Rochester NY Public Library, Rundel Building|[3]
  9. ^ New York Times interview with Emily Stevens, December 6, 1914
  10. ^ 1900 United States Census information
  11. ^ 1930 United States Census
  12. ^ Rochester Times Union newspaper article Sept. 18, 1951, archived with the Rochester Community Players collection, Rochester Public Library.
  13. ^ Rochester City Directories 1952-1956, showing Robert B. and Constance B. Stevens residing at 170 Spring Street, Rochester
  14. ^ Minuted, Board of Directors, August 4, 1925, archived with the Rochester Community Players Collection, Rochester Public Library
  15. ^ Newspaper article: "End of Season Tonight Also Closes Career of Two Leaders", May 3, 1953, unknown newspaper, archived in the 1953-54 Scrapbook, Rochester Community Players collection, Rochester Public Library
  16. ^ Newspaper articles, July & September, 1926, and Minutes of the RCP Board of Directors, June 1926, archived with the Rochester Community players collection, Rochester Public Library
  17. ^ Multiple newspaper articles, May 1953, archived in the 1947-1953 Scrapbook, Rochester Community Players collection, Rochester Public Library
  18. ^ RCP Program January 17, 1964, Tribute to Robert Stevens; archived with the Rochester Community Players collection, Rochester Public Library