Theater legend Robert Brustein passes away at 96

October 31, 2023

American theater fans were left in mourning this week after legendary figure Robert Brustein passed away. 

According to The New York Times, Brustein died on Sunday at the age of 96 in his Cambridge, Massachusetts's home.

A career spanning decades

A longtime theater critic and dramatist, Brustein once served as dean of Yale's drama school. He went on to found the Yale Repertory Theater and the American Repertory Theater at Harvard.

In 2011, then-President Barack Obama honored Brustein's legacy by awarding him the National Medal of Arts in a White House ceremony.

The Times noted that Brustein authored multiple books and his theater reviews were published by The New Republic for over five decades.

He was also known as a fierce proponent of nonprofit theaters, telling the Times in a 1990 interview, "The basic aim of the commercial theater is to make a profit."

"The basic aim of noncommercial theater, in its ideal form, is to create the condition whereby works of art can be known. And I don’t think these are compatible aims," Brustein added.

Actor remembers Brustein fondly

Boston's WBUR noted that Brustein is remembered fondly by many, such as British-born American actor John Douglas Thompson.

"He developed one of the best repertory companies in the country and the fact that I got to be a part of it was a special moment for me — that elite level of artistry that he dropped me in the middle of as if to say ‘You belong here, you belong in this group of artists,'" Thompson recalled.

"And he let me develop as a leading man. Bob really started that for me, giving me opportunities that I was ready for and thirsty for," the actor stressed.

"An absolute titan of American theater"

Tributes to Brustein quickly appeared on social media, including from the magazine American Theater, which praised his "uniquely outsized influence as an arts leader, educator, and critic."

The account Clear Shakespeare spoke up as well, calling Brustein "an absolute titan of American theater, from his essential criticism to his founding of the Yale Rep and ART."

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