Keith Fowler

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Keith Fowler
Keith Fowler reading Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL.jpg
Fowler in a solo staged reading of A Christmas Carol at the University of California, Irvine
Born (1939-02-23) February 23, 1939 (age 82)

Keith Franklin Fowler (born February 23, 1939) is an American actor, director, producer, and educator. He is a professor emeritus of drama and former head of directing in the Drama Department of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts of the University of California, Irvine (UCI), [1] and he is the former artistic director of two LORT/Equity theaters. [2] [3] [4]


Early career

In England, he directed the Midlands premiere of Brecht's Mother Courage. The production at the Stratford Hippodrome in spring 1961 led the town's veteran drama critic [5] to compliment the local troupe for daring a type of theater that Sir Peter Hall hesitated to bring to Stratford's just-founded Royal Shakespeare Company. [6]

Fowler earned a doctorate (D.F.A.) at the Yale School of Drama, studying under Nikos Psacharopoulos, director of the Williamstown Theater Festival, who chose Fowler to serve as his assistant, first as resident director of a theater in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where Fowler staged productions of J. B., by Archibald MacLeish, and Romeo and Juliet [7]

Virginia Museum Theater

In 1969, he was appointed head of the Theater Arts Division of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and artistic director of the Virginia Museum Theater (VMT, now the Leslie Cheek Theater), and he undertook to guide VMT in becoming Richmond's first resident Actors Equity company [8] and a home for classics and new plays. His productions, beginning with Marat/Sade (the first racially integrated company on the Virginia Museum's stage [9] ), brought controversy [10] into the heart of Richmond's museum district but also drew increased attendance, more than doubling audiences between 1969 and the late 1970s. [11]

The "Fowler 'Macbeth'"

Dubbing the professional company "VMT Rep", he drew national attention when in 1973 his second staging of Macbeth, a rather more realistic Stonehenge/historical version starring E.G. Marshall, led Clive Barnes of The New York Times to hail it as the "Fowler 'Macbeth.'" Barnes described the production as "splendidly vigorous, forcefully immediate... probably the goriest Shakespearean production I have seen since Peter Brook's 'Titus Andronicus'." Of Fowler, he wrote, "Virginia is lucky to have him." [12] Alfred Drake also joined the company in 1973 to direct the premiere of Richard Stockton's The Royal Rape of Ruari Macasmunde with Fowler in the title role. [13] International attention arrived in 1975 [14] when Soviet Cultural Consul Viktor Sakovich [15] provided coverage on Moscow Television for Fowler's English-language premiere of Maxim Gorky's Our Father (originally Poslednje). [16] Fowler subsequently produced the New York premiere of the Gorky drama at the Manhattan Theater Club. [17]

In 1977, refusing the museum administration's pressure to censor his premiere of Romulus Linney's play Childe Byron , [18] Fowler resigned to serve his Yale alma mater as chief of directing for a year. His departure provoked a public outcry over an alleged pattern of censorship by the museum, [19] with some arts patrons supporting the administration [20] and many standing by Fowler, asserting, for instance, that "no one else can jump in and claim credit for what Dr. Fowler has done ... he stood up for what he knew was right." [21]

American Revels Company

He returned to Richmond in 1978 with his associate director M. Elizabeth Osborn to lease the Empire Theater (since renamed the November Theater), on the border between historically black Jackson Ward and the city's business district, where they founded the American Revels Company. [22] Revels attracted progressive support for appealing to both black and white communities in Richmond. Without intending to enter into Richmond's post-segregation politics, Fowler nevertheless found Revels becoming a rallying point in the late 1970s for re-balancing the two symbiotic communities through art. Funding through the box office and City Council support was affected directly by public favor in a city with a growing black majority. [23]

Unity Audience

Following a summer of advance promotion, American Revels' first season [24] started with strong audiences, including full houses for A Christmas Carol and The Club in the thousand-seat theater. Such peaks in attendance could not be sustained, however, when later play titles, including Othello and I Have a Dream, leaned toward those least likely to afford tickets—the African-American community. Fowler countered by offering free performances to neighboring residents. [25] The plan drew hundreds of African-American theater-goers and began to build a new sector of audience. In the summer of 1979, Richmond's City Council awarded the company a challenge grant, [26] and a patron stepped forward to raise matching funds by sponsoring a performance by entertainer Ray Charles to benefit Revels. The success of the fund drive propelled the company into a second season in which Revels dealt with racial issues head-on by presenting a satire entitled The Black and White Minstrel Show, a parody of the racially split City Council. [27] [28] The season continued with works aimed at all of Richmond; [29]

Still the costs of production were higher than the purses and wallets of many in the core audience could support. American Revels closed after two seasons.

The company had made its mark. Revels mounted fourteen productions between 1978 and 1980. By presenting actors of color and dramas with black themes—alongside classics and "standard" works—the company drew a sizable African-American audience to live theater, many for the first time. Richmonders found that new plays and politically engaged works were not alien to their taste. Also, by resurrecting the long-dormant Empire/November Theater, the troupe pioneered the way for downtown professional theater, most significantly for Theatre IV/Virginia Rep, the subsequent occupant of the November. For such a legacy, many Richmonders remember the company fondly, counting the Revels years as a time of theatrical excitement, and Fowler—in the words of Richmond Lifestyle magazine—as a "Rebel with a Cause." [25]


After closing Revels, Fowler returned to acting at the Pittsburgh Public Theater and joined Yale classmate Robert Cohen, then chair of drama, on the faculty of the University of California, Irvine.

In 1984, he joined Jerzy Grotowski's "Objective Drama" project in the barn and fields south of the UCI campus, working with Grotowski day and night to explore the essential organons and yantras of performance. [30]

From 1996 to 2004, Fowler was the original director of ArtsBridge America, later expanded nationwide, a program created by then dean Jill Beck at UCI in 1996 for granting scholarships to university dance, drama, music, and studio art majors to reintroduce arts education into the depleted curricula of K-12 pupils in local schools. [31]

Personal life

Born in San Francisco [32] to Jack Franklin and Jacqueline Hocking Montgomery Fowler, Keith is a graduate of George Washington High and SF State. After residing for his first 21 years in San Francisco, he went to The Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham, UK, and Yale University's School of Drama for graduate work.[ citation needed ]


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  1. "UC Irvine Drama Department Faculty :: Keith Fowler". Retrieved 2013-04-27.
  2. Virginia Museum Theater, 1955-1980, "Twenty-Five Years of Service to the Commonwealth," 1980, 21
  3. Panhelas, William, "Fowler Resigns...," The Commonwealth Times, March 29-April 4, 1977
  4. Proctor, Roy, "Empire Leased for Theatrical Group," Richmond News Leader, Aug 24, 1978
  5. "Amateur Players break new ground with 'Mother Courage'," Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, April 21, 1961
  6. Gardiner, Edmund, "Pepys Behind the Scenes," Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, April 28, 1961
  7. Program of the Casino-in-the-Park Playhouse, summer 1963
  8. And a member of LORT, the League of Resident Theaters, the professional organization of professional repertory companies with Actors Equity contracts, --the Virginia Museum Theater was classed as a LORT "C" company. [ permanent dead link ]
  9. African-Americans had occasionally appeared in race-constrained parts, as maids and servants; Marat/Sade was the first VMT production to cast black performers in racially unspecified major roles--as Duperret and Cucurucu.
  10. See editorial, "The Thing at the Museum," Editorial Page Richmond News Leader, October 10, 1969
  11. "Theater Hits Record Sales..." Petersburg Progress-Index, July 22, 1975
  12. CLIVE BARNES Special to The New York Times (1973-02-12). "Stage - Fowler 'Macbeth' - A Vigorous Production Staged in Richmond The Cast - Article -" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 2013-04-27.
  13. Theatre Profiles, Vol. 1, Theatre Communications Group, 1973.
  14. Program of the Virginia Museum Theater Repertory Company, "Our Father," February 7–22, 1975
  15. Kass, Carole, "Play Prompts Praise..." in Richmond Times-Dispatch, Feb. 9, 1975
  16. Translated by William Stancil, VMT's Music director.
  17. Gussow, Mel (1975-05-10). "Stage - Gorky's Difficult 'Our Father' - A Family Split in Two Is Under Scrutiny - Article -". Retrieved 2013-04-27.
  18. Rosenfeld, Megan, The Washington Post, Thursday, March 24, 1977
  19. Merritt, Robert, "Conflict of Ideals Key to Resignation of Theater Director," Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 31, 1977
  20. Stalnaker, Shirley R., "If She Desired 'Trash,' She Would See a Movie," in "Voice of the People," Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 1, 1977
  21. Pahnelas, William, "Fowler Resigns, Cites Artistic Differences," The Commonwealth Times, March 29-April 4, 1977
  22. A LORT "B" company
  23. Merritt, Robert, "Revels' 'Dream' Is Worth Wait...," Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 24, 1979, A-7
  24. Offering: A Christmas Carol ; The Club; Holy Ghosts, by Romulus Linney; Othello ; and a drama about Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream
  25. 1 2 Steger, Martha, "Keith Fowler: Rebel With a Cause, Virginia Lifestyle magazine, June/July 1979
  26. For $25,000 to be matched to $50,000; Steger.
  27. And offering excerpts of it on the steps of Richmond City Hall.
  28. Modeled after The Minstrel Show or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel, premiered in 1967 by the San Francisco Mime Troupe.
  29. In addition to the Minstrel Show, the second season included Twelfth Night, Tales from the Vienna Woods, by Ödön von Horváth, American Buffalo, El Grande de Coca Cola, and Ashes of Soldiers. A co-production with the Haymarket Theater of Showboat was a bonus to subscribers. A special rhythm and blues dance concert, Strutters Ball, was added in mid-season to honor local black and white headliners, Larry Bland and Steve Bassett. A new play by Kevin Heelan, Hope I Hear it Again Sometime, concluded the year.
  30. Slowiak, James, and Jairo Cuesta, Jerzy Grotowski, p. 59
  31. "ArtsBridge America Program " Lawrence University News". 2005-03-24. Retrieved 2013-04-27.
  32. "The oldest existing hospital in the state of California, located at Geary Boulevard between 5th and 6th Avenues, now operated as a Kaiser-Permanente facility". Archived from the original on 2014-02-02. Retrieved 2014-03-01.