Oscar Brockett, a renowned theatre historian died on Sunday in Austin, Texas at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke on Saturday. Through his work, Brockett was a teacher who educated generations of theatre students, most of whom never sat in a classroom with him. Beyond the many students he taught directly, many more used his book History of the Theatre, which was originally produced in 1968. Over 40 years later, it's now in its 10th edition and is still today a staple textbook of theatre programs.
Brockett was born in rural Tennessee to a family that grew tobacco. He earned his BA from Peabody College and his MA and PhD from Stanford University. Brockett began teaching in university theatre programs in 1949 and taught in Iowa, Indiana, Florida, California and elsewhere before coming to Texas. He joined The University of Texas at Austin in 1978 as dean of the College of Fine Arts, and in 1980 was appointed head of the Ph.D. in Theatre History program in the Department of Theatre and Dance until his retirement in 2006.
Not letting retirement slow him down, Professor Emeritus Brockett only just last year produced the new book Making the Scene: A History of Stage Design and Technology in Europe and the United States, which he co-authored with Margaret Mitchell and Linda Hardberger. All were presented the USITT Golden Pen award for the book.
He had many accolades in his long and illustrious career. Brockett was a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and Fulbright Award; he was a Fellow of the American Theatre at the Kennedy Center; and has been honored with multiple Career Achievement Awards including the Texas Educational Theatre Association 2008 Emeritus Award and the 2009 USITT Award from the US Institute for Theatre Technology.
I never got to meet Professor Brockett, but, like many theatre graduates, I do feel that I know him somewhat through his books. As I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I did strongly consider going for my masters degree at UT Austin, and he was one of the strongest reasons I was considering the school. I decided against graduate school when the opportunity to get started working in theatre in NYC was offered to me. During my career I have met some amazing people who have had long histories of working in the theatre and my love of the history of theatre has led to some wonderful conversations, often offering the common ground to start a conversation and build a relationship with many designers and technicians. That appreciation of theatre history started with Oscar Brockett's book for me. I am sorry that I never got a chance to meet him or attend his lectures but I am very thankful he shared his passion with so many more of us than just the fortunate students in his classrooms.
A public memorial service at the University of Texas at Austin is being planned. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that contributions be sent to the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre Endowment, Department of Theatre and Dance, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station-D3900, Austin, TX 78712-0362.