The University of Texas at Austin
  • Oscar Brockett dies: “I miss him sorely,” says dean

    By Leslie Lyon
    Leslie Lyon
    Published: Nov. 10, 2010

    Professor Emeritus Oscar Brockett, 87, the world’s leading theatre historian and one of The University of Texas at Austin’s most distinguished professors, died on Nov. 7  due to complications following a massive stroke.

    Oscar Brockett died on Nov. 7.

    Brockett was the recipient of multiple lifetime achievement awards, including the Career Achievement Award from the Association of Theatre in Higher Education, the Texas Educational Theatre Association and the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology. He was also the recipient of multiple grants and fellowships including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship, and was a Fellow of the American Theatre at the Kennedy Center. In 1998 the College of Fine Arts presented him with the E. William Doty Award, recognizing him as an individual of distinction in his field who has demonstrated extraordinary interest in the college.

    “Oscar Brockett quite literally invented the study of theatre history,” said Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Brant Pope. “Before his work, we studied the history of the drama, but Dr. Brockett was the first and foremost man of the theatre to write about the relationship between the drama and the production of those works on the stage.

    “As was every student of the theatre in my generation, I was introduced to my chosen field by studying the works of Oscar Brockett. How incredibly fortunate I am that this man, who so shaped my understanding of what being a theatre artists means, was also my friend. As I write this, his greatest book, ‘Century of Innovation’ sits on my desk. At this moment when we grieve his loss, it gives great comfort to think how many future students of the theatre will encounter Oscar Brockett in the ideas, and images and imagination he poured into his work.”

    Brockett was dean of the College of Fine Arts in 1978 and stepped down in 1980 to join the Department of Theatre and Dance and head its doctoral program. Within nine years the doctoral program was the number one theatre history program in the nation. A prolific and influential author, Brockett wrote several books, including “History of the Theatre,”(1968) the top-ranked and highest-selling theatre history text of the 20th century. Translated into several languages including Chinese, Arabic, Czech and Farsi, his books have worldwide readership. It is now in its 10th edition and has been a part of every American theatre student’s education for about four decades.

    “He was a prolific, meticulous scholar,” said Doug Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts,” into the very last year of his long career. Only two weeks ago, his most recent book, ‘Making the Scene,’ received a book award from the University Cooperative Society. He leaves a legacy that will last as long again as his long life. To those whom he touched, he leaves an enormous space in our lives. I miss him sorely.”

    Brockett grew up in rural Tennessee on a tobacco farm and was the first in his family to attend college, which he left to serve in World War II where he captained a troop transport ship. After the war he returned to his studies and eventually earned his doctoral degree in theatre from Stanford University. He taught in Iowa, Florida, California and at Indiana University prior to joining the University of Texas at Austin as dean of the College of Fine Arts.

    Brockett is survived by his daughter, Francesca Brockett, and her husband, James Pedicano of Austin.

    • Quote 2
      Charles Staadecker said on Nov. 12, 2010 at 1:41 p.m.
      My wife Benita and I are not actors, nor are we theatre majors. But the magic of theatre touched us recently and thus our journey to Austin this past June to meet and dine with Oscar Brockett. By a quirk of fate, I had an idea to commission a play that as a birthday present would be dedicated to my wife. A play not about us, nor did we have any strings attached. Just a unique birthday gift, that I had no idea of what would happen or if the play would ever be produced. The trail led to Steven Dietz who created "Becky's New Car" and Dr Brockett was so thrilled with the play and how it was incubated that he included it in his 10th edition. The play opened in Seattle in Oct 2008 and has since traveled to 13 cities; one of which was Austin. It was on that occasion Dr Brockett met us, saw the play and met the cast. I then learned from the actors the expression that his theatre textbook was referred to as "Brockett"...thus "I am carrying my Brockett to class". We are not wealthy people, just average Joes from Seattle, yet Dr Brockett with his smooth gentility and charm made us feel most important; when of course it was he who was the star. We mention his name often as we travel to attend every opening of "Becky"; and cast members from around the country relate stories to us of college years where "we all carried our Brocketts". Indeed the theatre world is filled with magic, and we were one of the recipients of those magic ripples. Dr. Brockett, rest well, your legacy is well intact and is literally "carried" by thousands. From Charles & Benita Staadecker (Seattle), a very wealthy (I stand corrected) couple indeed.
    • Quote 2
      Suzanne Hassler said on Nov. 10, 2010 at 9:27 p.m.
      I'm stunned and saddened to have just learned this news. Dr. Brockett was the most influential teacher I ever had. My first class with him in graduate school was like throwing opening a window in my mind and letting in a whole new, much more flexible way of thinking about the world, where there were no longer rigid black and white answers to questions. Any opinion was acceptable as long it was defensible. He expected his students never to cease to challenge their own opinions and likewise never ceased to do the same himself. I feel suddenly at a loss...I didn't get to tell him that I won an NEA fellowship this fall. Suzanne Hassler University of Illinois School of Music Editor-in-chief, sonorities
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